Avalanche alert in the Pyrenees

Householders warned of highly unstable conditions in Aspe/Ossau area with powerful snowslides feared this morning

16 January 2013

RESIDENTS in Pyrénées-Atlantiques and Hautes-Pyrénées have been put on Red avalanche alert, with a severe risk that isolated houses could be hit and main roads cut.

Red is the highest level alert and has never before been issued for avalanches and follows a series of smaller avalanches yesterday, notably at Accous where the RN134 was cut off.

The prefecture said the Aspe/Ossau area was at highest risk – although the worst of the risk should have passed by lunchtime today.

An Orange snowstorm alert has also been declared for Charente, Dordogne, Corrèze, Lot, Aveyron, Tarn, Tarn-et-Garonne, Haute-Garonne, Aude and Ariège with heavy snows expected and a danger of black ice.

Aspe/Ossau had seen up to 50cm of snow falling in two stages – with a deep covering of snow in very cold conditions, which made it light and fluffy, followed by very wet heavy snow.

The early snow would act like ball bearings with the heavy snow on top and, although forecasters knew the likely “corridors” it would take, the avalanche could slide a long way and was not predictable. There was a severe risk of roads and isolated houses being hit.

Ski stations at Artouste, Pierre-Saint-Martin and Gourette have been closed, but not evacuated, and roads serving them and the Spanish border are closed.

So far, 2,500 residents have been hit by power cuts from the storms which have seen the prefecture also issue flood warnings along the Nive and the Nivelle.

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