Hannibal's army of skiers flees `white hell' of the Alps, vowing never to return

BEDRAGGLED LIKE Hannibal's army after its ill-fated trek through the Alps, holidaymakers poured out of the white hell of the Paznaun valley yesterday, many vowing never to return. The train out of Landeck, the beachhead of the international airlift, was packed with survivors from Galtur and Valzur, the two resorts devastated by avalanches earlier in the week.

Psychologists roamed the carriages, offering quick-fix therapy - this is, after all, Sigmund Freud's homeland.

The patients were easily identifiable. They were the ones clutching sports bags stuffed to the rims; the only piece of luggage allowed on to the helicopters that flew them to safety.

They all had a wild stare, and were enveloped in over-powering body odour. While their mobile telephones functioned even after the disaster, the victims had been robbed of simpler facilities of modern civilisation. They could converse with the other side of the globe, but were unable to take a wash. The army barracks that received them had not been kitted out with showers for 6,000 people.

And the people of Galtur had something else in common. Their initial fright had turned into anger, with one question on everybody's lips: "Why weren't we told of the dangers?"

Galtur's only escape route, the road through the narrow gorge leading to Landeck, had been blocked a week ago. Only the foolhardy went skiing, and as the snowdrifts closed in, even those eventually decided not to risk it.

Cooped up in their chalets, the guests tried to find indoor diversions, patiently waiting for the end of their incarceration. It was all a bit inconvenient, but there was no inkling of anyone's life being in peril.

On the contrary. "On Monday afternoon there was a meeting with the people from the local avalanche committee," recalls Stan Berings, a Dutch survivor of Galtur. "They said to us, `There is no problem. No danger at all. There hasn't been an avalanche here for hundreds of years'. There was only a little information available.

"We were watching TV and someone said: `Hey, look, they're saying there is a level five avalanche warning for Galtur'." Level five is the highest. Still, the experts reassured the tourists that Galtur was immune.

The next day, at 4pm, the lethal cloud of powdery snow struck at 150 miles an hour. Those caught out in the streets died instantly. The avalanche cleared a path 100 metres wide through the resort, tossing buildings aside like so many doll's houses. There was simply no escape.

Even those who had played safe by staying indoors were vulnerable. It was pot luck whose building stood in the way of the elements, and on what floor they were staying.

The path of the unpredicted catastrophe could not be foretold. The sirens sounded after what many assumed had been an explosion. By yesterday, 37 bodies had been recovered after the avalanches and one girl was still missing.

A ski-lift operator from Galtur confirms that the professionals had been aware of the possibility of disaster, and were surprised by the avalanche committee's assessment. "I simply do not understand why they underestimated the danger," said the man, asking that his name be withheld. "It was like dynamite up there. People shouldn't play with it."

In Valzur, a smaller resort down the valley, the tourists had at least been forewarned by the fate of neighbouring Galtur. The avalanche committee could therefore chart the direction of the coming disaster.

"We had already had two smaller avalanches," says Styn Carron, a Belgian holidaymaker. "We were told which part of the village was in danger, and which relatively safe. This turned out to be the case."

On Wednesday afternoon Mr Carron was in the safer zone, protected to some extent by trees. "I was watching TV, heard a bang and the TV set fell down." Trapped in his room, he calmly packed his belongings and hunkered down for the night. At daybreak the helicopters arrived.

Yet despite the warning, seven people perished in Valzur, in the area officially described as "less safe". They had chosen to stay there on that fatal afternoon.

The people of Landeck, who live off tourism, have been appalled with the way they feel tourists have been deliberately put at risk.

The exceptional weather had been forecast more than two weeks ago. In their minds, the road to Galtur should have then been closed and preparations made for a mass evacuation. Instead, the local authorities made a business- friendly decision. The road stayed open, until buried by the heaviest snowfall seen in the Tyrol in nearly 50 years.

The responsibility for all those lost lives should not, though, be attributed entirely to Tyrolese greed. The local economy lives off the snow, and the thrill that comes with it. Tourists pampered by their mundane urban lives come here seeking a light work-out and a taste of danger. If the Tyrol shuts down, they will go looking for action somewhere else.

But Tyrol, awaiting the worst avalanches yet as the deadly white blanket begins to melt and slips towards the chalets in the valleys, is open for business. The hotels are fully booked throughout the region.

The trains that arrived at Landeck yesterday morning were disgorging thousands of people dressed in designer anoraks, armed with virgin skis. They had heard of the wonderful powder snow of the Paznaun valley, and cannot wait to try out their new gear. Let nobody say that they have not been warned.

Suggested Topics
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Java Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a...

SAP Functional Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £45,000 - £55,000.

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Functional ...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn