Austria Rescues Avalanche Victims

GALTUER, Austria (AP) _ A rescue helicopter evacuated about 40 people today who were stranded at a hostel high in the western Austrian Alps, one day after nine German vacationers were killed by an avalanche triggered by a massive snow storm.

After skies cleared at midday today, a helicopter managed to land near a rustic, multistory hostel 6,600 feet into the Austrian Alps and fly out survivors.

Authorities on Tuesday had said only one person in the group survived, but today, Frauke Brunner, one of those in the group, said she and four others were rescued after being buried by the masses of snow.

Some of those who died were killed after being “catapulted against a cliff” by the avalanche, Brunner told the Austria Press Agency. She said that she managed to survive in a small air pocket.

“I then lost consciousness and regained it only after noticing the rescuers poking into the snow,” she said.

As the weather improved, the helicopter shuttled back and forth until it had brought down the 31 other tourists, about eight guides and cabin attendants at the hostel as well as the bodies of the victims – six men and three women.

They were among the 12 people killed across Austria on Tuesday as a second killer storm in three days swept across Europe, battering the continent with fierce winds, torrential downpours and violent waves along the French coast. The storms have killed a total of 122 people in Western Europe.

In Austria, the new storms snarled traffic and knocked out power. In addition to the nine German tourists, two others were buried Tuesday in an avalanche near the southwestern village of Vent, and a snowboarder was killed in an avalanche in central Steiermark state, police said.

Thousands of people were reported without electricity today in eastern and southern Austria, which was buried under up to 16 inches of snow. Officials warned of an acute danger of further avalanches in western and northeastern parts of the country.

The Germans _ all experienced mountaineers _ were hiking up to the cabin outside Galtuer, 300 miles southwest of Vienna, when the avalanche struck in the early afternoon, police said. The tourists had planned to spend New Year’s Eve at the cabin, which is normally closed for the winter. Galtuer Mayor Anton Mattle told reporters today that the area around the cabin had been declared dangerous due to the threat of avalanches on Monday. Vice Mayor Martin Lorenz said “there are many questions to clarify” about why the tourists were in that area. The avalanche occurred near the site where 38 people were killed by massive avalanches in February.