7 die in French avalanche

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An avalanche swept away an entire school class, walking with snow shoes high in the French Alps yesterday, killing seven people. Six more people were still missing last night after 19 had been rescued by emergency teams using trained "avalanche" dogs, capable of sniffing out bodies trapped under the snow. Some of the rescued people were buried for several hours; all were injured.

The accident happened near Orres in the Haute-Alpes area of France, south of Grenoble. Authorities had issued avalanche warnings following heavy snow-falls but the school party seems to have departed from the recommended safe trails.

Police said 32 people had been engulfed by the slide of snow and ice, including 26 teenagers and six teachers and instructors. There was no immediate word on the identity or ages of the victims.

The children came from the Saint-Francois d'Assises school at Montigny- le-Bretonneux, south of Paris. They were taking part in a "classe de neige", the extended period of skiing instruction given to thousands of French schoolchildren at this time of year. Local police said the accident happened close to a known avalanche high-risk area.