Europe blanketed in snow following the deaths of 21 people in winter whiteout

A state of emergency was in force across parts of Europe last night after the death toll in the worst snowfall for at least 30 years reached 21.

Tanks and troops were drafted in to rescue homeowners from neck-deep snow in Germany and Austria as the whiteout looked to continue past the weekend.

British skiers were among thousands facing long delays on their airport transfers to and from resorts in Austria due to road conditions, but travel industry sources said they had heard no reports of Britons snowed in or trapped.

In Switzerland, a 1,000ft-wide avalanche ploughed through the front of a hotel while diners were eating. Three people were injured but miraculously there were no deaths.

Parts of Europe have been paralysed in recent days with the snow cutting off remote mountain villages and disrupting transport. Avalanche warnings were at critical levels.

The state of emergency was declared across much of southern Germany, with soldiers deployed to help trapped people. The army was also called in across Albania, Montenegro and Serbia.

‘Such quantities of snow above 800m altitude only happen once every 30 to 100 years,’ said Austrian meteorologist Alexander Radlherr. Austrian military helicopters on Friday rescued 66 German teenagers out of a mountain guest house where they had been trapped for several days.

The snow is up to 10ft (3m) deep in parts of the country, where seven people have died in the past week. Two hikers have also been missing since last Saturday.

The military used helicopters to blow snow off treetops to reduce the risk of trees falling on roads and train tracks.

Sweden and Norway were hit by similar problems, while three diners were injured when an avalanche came down the Schwägalp Pass in the Swiss Alps and crashed into the Hotel Santis.

One guest in the hotel restaurant said that initially he thought snow was falling from the roof. ‘There was a gigantic noise and the back area of the restaurant was engulfed in masses of snow,’ the guest told media.

In Germany’s southern state of Bavaria, a nine-year-old boy was killed by a tree which collapsed under the weight of snow. It was 40 minutes before he was found and emergency services were unable to revive him.

The blanket of snow is expected to remain into the middle of next week throughout central and northern Europe. In Britain, forecasters have warned of heavy frosts and snow after the recurrence of conditions which preceded the Beast from the East last winter.

Meteorological Office forecaster Sarah Kent said: ‘We’re not yet sure whether the winds are going to come from the Arctic or Siberia, but it could become very cold.

‘There’s definitely an increased risk of widespread hard frosts and, if any weather systems bump into that cold air, it increases the chance of snow.’             

Several towns and cities in southwest Serbia introduced emergency measures, warning of snow piling up on the roads and sealing off mountain villages, Serbian state TV reported Friday. Most schools in the area closed down and 10 people had to be rescued from their homes. Strong winds complicated the work of emergency crews.

In neighboring Montenegro, meteorologist Dragan Buric said the first 10 days of January have been among the coldest the country has seen in decades.

“We have snow in January in the capital city (Podgorica) for the first time in nine years,” Buric told Montenegrin state TV.

Three guests at an hotel in the Swiss alps were left injured on Thursday after an avalanche slammed into the restaurant around 4.30pm, burying 25 cars outside.

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