13000 tourists stuck in Matterhorn town amid avalanche risk

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The Zermatt police department official said the air bridge would be provided to tourists requesting an exit by the 3-minute helicopter flight from the town at the foot of the Alpine peak down to the nearby village of Taesch.

Towns and villages across Switzerland, France and Italy have been cut off and ski areas closed.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, said Tuesday that about 100 people could be evacuated per hour, conditions permitting.

Swiss state-backed broadcaster SRF showed images of several people wheeling their luggage out to three helicopters, with their blades whirring atop an icy plateau. The resort website says: "Without question, it is inadvisable to engage in ski touring, freeriding and snowshoe hiking outside marked and open pistes".

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Bulldozers were plowing through the snowdrifts in Zermatt so that streets could be salted.

Local officials have issued warnings about potentially "large and, in many cases, very large dry avalanches...as a result of fresh snow and strong winds".

Janine Imesch of the Zermatt tourism office said her office suffered a temporary power cut but said tourists were safe with the road closures in place.

After almost three feet of fresh snow fell on top of a deep holiday snowpack, on Monday morning police and local authorities announced the closure of all roads in and out of Zermatt, Switzerland, due to extreme avalanche danger. "Only the ski areas are closed".

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Romy Biner, the head of the Zermatt town council, told SRF the airlift was for guests who urgently needed to leave and to bring in supplies. "In the village, the atmosphere is relaxed".

She said: "It surprised us a bit this year and we're trying to make the best of it".

The avalanche risk is at the highest it's been for nearly 10 years.

Parts of the Savoie area of the Alps have seen up to 1.8 metres of snow in just 36 hours in what French forecasters described as snowfall only seen "once every 30 years".

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Authorities expect conditions to improve by Wednesday.

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