European news agencies have reported that 12 people have died and hundreds more have been trapped in Alpine regions by heavy snow and high winds as conditions increase the risk of deadly avalanches in the mountains.
In Norway, a 29-year-old Swedish woman and three Finns, aged 29, 32 and 36, were presumed dead after a 990ft wide avalanche hit a valley near the northern city of Tromso last week.
In Austria, hundreds of residents were stuck in their homes due to blocked roads, and some regions experienced power outages after snow-laden trees took down power lines.
A 28-year-old man and a 23-year-old woman who went missing while snowshoeing were found dead near Salzburg in central Austria, while about 40 rescuers with dogs were still searching for two others who went missing while snowshoeing near Hohenberg in Lower Austria, the Austrian news agency APA reported.
In Germany, a 44-year-old man died in Wackersberg in Bavaria when he was hit by tree branches brought down by heavy snow, police said. Authorities also said that a woman who was buried by an avalanche last week in the Uri canton of Switzerland died of her injuries over the weekend.
Three skiers in Austria were killed by avalanches and one woman in Bavaria died in a weather-related incident over the weekend as well. The Austrian news agency APA reported that a 62-year-old teacher was killed while skiing in Mariazeller Buergeralpe in Austria when he fell and got buried in a snowbank. Two German skiers lost their lives in avalanches in the western region of Vorarlberg on Sunday, rescue services said.
Many slopes have been closed as a precaution. The entire Hochkar skiing region in Lower Austria was closed because of the high risk of avalanches. Residents and visitors were asked to leave the region by the end of yesterday.
The avalanche situation in the Eastern Austrian Alps is currently quite tense. From the Ybbstal Alps all the way to the Bregenzerwald in Vorarlberg, high avalanche danger (level 4) prevails over widespread areas above the treeline. More than 200 cm of fresh snow has been registered in Austria's Northern Massif since 30 December. Such snowfall has not been seen this early in the season since 1973.
Today's fresh falls will cause significant drifting in leeward zones behind crests and terrain edges in particular, increasing avalanche risk.
Austrian authorities warned skiers not to go off the slopes and not drive their cars unless needed.
Up to a metre more snow is forecast for the coming days.