Nine die in Kosovo avalanche; child survives

Nine die in Kosovo avalanche; child survives

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Restelica:  Rescuers have pulled a 5-year-old girl alive from the rubble of a house flattened by a massive avalanche that killed both of her parents and at least seven of her relatives in a remote mountain village in southern Kosovo.

Col. Shemsi Syla, a spokesman for the Kosovo Security Force, said the girl was discovered in the ruins, buried under 10 meters (33 feet) of snow, when officers heard her voice and the ringing of a cell phone. Rescuers cheered in delight and pumped their fists in the air as the girl emerged alive.

A video aired on Klan Kosova TV showed rescuers from the Kosovo Security Force and villagers covering the girl with blankets before rushing her from the remote village to the hospital.

Osman Qerreti, an emergency official at the site, told The Associated Press that at least nine members of one family died in the avalanche that hit the village of Restelica near Kosovo's border with Macedonia and Albania on Saturday, destroying seven houses of which only two were inhabited.

Amid subfreezing temperatures on Sunday, local villagers used shovels to dig deep into the snow-covered rubble - all that remained of two one-story brick houses that housed the Reka family. One more person is believed missing.

"No bigger tragedy has ever struck this region," said local district official Behar Ramadani. "Two brothers with their wives and children have been killed."

The girl, identified as Ansera Reka, was recovering in hospital in the nearby town of Prizren where doctors said her life was not in danger. They said she lost both her father and mother in the avalanche and had been buried for more than 10 hours.

NATO peacekeepers, deployed in Kosovo to end the armed conflict between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians in 1999, had been called in to help local authorities in the rescue operation, but were unable to land a helicopter in the blizzard.

The rescuers initially dug out the bodies of a married couple and their 17-year-old son. Six more bodies were discovered during the overnight and Sunday excavation.

The cold snap in Europe, which began in late January, has killed hundreds of people - most of them homeless. Heavy snow has been blanketing the Balkans for more than two weeks, with Restelica and roads in the region blocked for several days.

In neighboring Montenegro, where the government introduced a state of emergency because of the deep freeze, special police forces on Sunday managed to reach about 50 train passengers stranded after tracks were blocked by avalanches for two days.

Police said a 55-year-old passenger had died from a heart attack on Saturday night, while the other passengers were sheltering in a nearby tunnel waiting for evacuation.

The airport in Podgorica remained closed on Sunday and the streets were blocked by snow that has reached 57 centimeters (22 inches) - the highest since measurements started in the capital in 1949.

Authorities have banned driving in the capital, while many parked cars were damaged after snow-covered trees fell on them.

In Serbia, the heavy snow continued to fall Sunday as some 50,000 people remained stranded in snowbound remote areas, some without electricity.

The Albanian government is expected to declare a state of emergency in the north and south of the country, Prime Minister Sali Berisha said.

Much of Italy's north-central east was digging out Sunday after heavy snowfall collapsed roofs onto barnyard animals, closed roads and wreaked havoc with air transport.

Twenty horses were killed when the roof collapsed on a barn housing them in Badia Tedalda, one of the central Tuscan towns hardest hit by the snow, the ANSA news agency reported, citing Mayor Fabrizio Giovannini. Elsewhere, in le Marche regional civil protection crews reported thousands of cows, pigs and other farm animals killed by fallen roofs.

In Rome, the sun shone and whatever snow remained from Saturday's blizzard - the second in as many weeks - melted away. But Mayor Gianni Alemanno kept a ban in place on motorcycles in the city center, where some streets remained icy.

In Russia, 20,000 amateur and professional cross-country skiers in Yakhroma, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Moscow, were undeterred by temperatures of minus 23 degrees Celsius (minus 9 Fahrenheit. They raced for five kilometers (about three miles)as part of a mass skiing competition held across the country every year.

Story First Published: February 13, 2012 11:34 IST

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