Alps snow strands thousands of tourists in Switzerland

Media caption,
Heavy snow and high winds caused headaches for ski resorts

Thousands of tourists have been left stranded after heavy snow in the Alps cut off towns and villages across Switzerland, France and Italy.

In the Swiss resort of Zermatt, more than 13,000 tourists are trapped and some visitors who wanted to leave were airlifted by helicopter.

Skiing is not possible as slopes are closed because of the risk of avalanches.

More than a metre (39in) of snow fell in parts on Monday alone.

On Tuesday, a metre more is forecast.

The avalanche risk is set at the rarely used maximum on a five-point scale. This is the highest it has been for almost 10 years.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
After extremely heavy snow, Zermatt can only be reached by air
Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Community workers are clearing paths through snowdrifts several feet thick
Image source, EPA
Image caption,
An avalanche lies across the train track out of Zermatt - one of the main reasons why road and rail are closed

An avalanche hit a five-storey building in Sestrieres, in the Italian Alps, late on Monday, but the 29 people staying in the building escaped without injury, fleeing through the garage.

French forecasters have described the snowfall as the kind that are only seen "once in every 30 years", with up to 1.8m (6ft) of snow falling in 36 hours in parts of the Savoie area.

A British skier - John Bromell, 39, from Willingham by Stow near Lincoln - went missing on Sunday at the Tignes ski resort in France Alps.

Bad weather prevented a search on Monday, however French police have told the BBC that a helicopter search for Mr Bromell will begin this afternoon.

Despite the fact that they are stranded, the tourists in Zermatt are reported to be in good spirits and the tourist office describes the atmosphere as "relaxed and comfortable".

Some have described it as "romantic", BBC correspondent Imogen Foulkes reports. Although there were some helicopter airlifts, these have now stopped, Zermatt authorities tweeted.

In the Simplon region of Valais, where Zermatt is located, two metres (6.6ft) of snow fell in a 24-hour period, the Swiss ATS news agency said.

The first downhill training run for the men's World Cup in Wengen in the Bern canton was cancelled on Tuesday.

Organisers said snow and high winds had caused significant damage to infrastructure on the course.

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