Days of snowfall have cut off Austrian and German towns from the outside world

Eight people have been killed and others are missing as Austrian civil authorities warn citizens to stock up on supplies

People putting  snow chains on their cars  during heavy snowfall near Untertauern, Austria. Photograph: . EPA/Christian Bruna

People putting snow chains on their cars during heavy snowfall near Untertauern, Austria. Photograph: . EPA/Christian Bruna

 

Europe’s Alpine regions are facing dangerous storms, avalanches and potential food shortages after days of snowfall have left Austrian and German towns cut off from the outside world.

Eight people have been killed and others are missing in the extreme snow as Austrian civil authorities have warned citizens to stock up on supplies.

“Everyone should make provision for themselves and their families to live for a week without external assistance,” the country’s civil protection agency said in a statement. “This is not just about food and drink, but also for medication and cooking and heating without electricity.”

After days of heavy snowfall the highest avalanche warning now applies in the states of Tirol and parts of the Steiermark and Upper Austria. Other areas have the second-highest alert level, with at least another metre of snow forecast in higher regions by Thursday.

“The amount of snow is really scary,” Heinz Wilding, mayor from the Austrian town of Hohentauen, told the Bild tabloid. His town had been cut off from the outside world for four days by two walls of snow, while ongoing heavy blizzards have forced supply helicopters to turn around. “But we are well prepared,” he added, “so have no worries for the next days.”

With many Austrian ski resorts closed, and the first evacuated on Monday, mountain rescue crews urged those in other regions to stick to signposted routes. Two Germans died at the weekend after going off-piste and two other skiers were missing. A 39-year-old snowboarder was rescued from a mountain in Tirol despite a high avalanche risk.

School cancelled

Mountainous regions could see spontaneous avalanches, strong enough to reach villages in valleys below. Many there are fearful of a repeat of the extreme snow of 1999, when avalanches swamped entire towns and left 31 buried.

With school cancelled for many Austrian children, the country’s automobile club urged drivers to stay at home unless absolutely necessary and to ignore road blocks at their peril. “This is not just stupid and dangerous but also an offence,” said a club spokeswoman.

While Austria and southern Germany battle snow, Germany’s northern Baltic coast is braced for massive storms and floods.

Meanwhile the snow sparked an unusual threat in the Bavarian town of Thiersheim. A couple left their house on Saturday morning to find someone had built a snowman outside their door wielded a carving knife. The alarmed couple contacted the police, who were later hunting for the snowy suspect.