Swiss emergency crews have launched a search operation after an avalanche crashed through a hotel restaurant while guests were eating.
A 1,000ft wall of snow thundered into Hotel Säntis in Schwägalp in northeastern Switzerland, burying 25 cars and leaving three people injured.
At least one person had to be dug out of the snow when the avalanche struck at about 4.30pm yesterday, an eyewitness said.
Dozens have been evacuated from the 4,265ft altitude skiing resort and pictures show a bus buried in snow near what appears to be an overturned car.
While no hotel guests, skiers or hikers were reported missing, rescue teams have been conducting searches in the avalanche area, which lies at the foot of Säntis mountain – the highest peak in eastern Switzerland’s Alpstein massif.
Bitter weather conditions have caused havoc across Europe and left at least 17 dead – but forecasters have warned it will keep snowing until the middle of next week.
Swiss emergency crews have launched a search operation after an avalanche crashed through a hotel restaurant (pictured) while guests were eating
Three people were injured when huge amounts of snow crashed through into a dining area at Hotel Säntis in Schwägalp in the canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden
Eyewitnesses said at least one person had to be dug out of the snow when the avalanche struck the building. Pictures show how cars were left upturned in a car park outside
A bus was also left covered in snow outside the hotel entrance after the avalanche cascaded down a hillside in Hundwil, Switzerland
Emergency services said they were still searching for people who might be missing in the wake of the avalanche in the municipality of Hundwil
A hotel guest told the Tagblatt newspaper he looked outside and saw snow swirling all around – initially believing snow had fallen off the roof. Fortunately only a few people were in the dining area at the time.
But the guest added: ‘Then there was a massive noise and a load of snow came in the back of the restaurant.’
Eastern Switzerland and the northern canton Graubünden have suffered from a huge dump of snow over recent days with nearly a metre falling in 72 hours. A further metre of snow is expected to fall in the Hundwil area on Sunday.
According to local media, the avalanche was 300 meters (984ft) wide and up to 5 meters (16.4ft) high. A 76-strong mountain rescue team as well as two search dogs are at the scene.
Meanwhile, in Germany, troops have moved in to rescue people trapped in their homes after heavy snowfall amid warnings Europe’s whiteout will last until at least the middle of next week.
Soldiers used tracked support vehicles to battle through drifts in the town of Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps close to the Austrian border.
They were also seen shovelling snow from the tops of buildings as part of their emergency response to the huge downfalls.
Today officials declared a state of emergency in a fourth southern Bavarian district – Bad Tölz-Wolfratshausen.
Airlines canceled around 120 flights at Frankfurt Airport and 90 at Munich Airport on Friday because of concerns about snow, German news agency DPA reported.
In the eastern German city of Chemnitz, all planned burials at the municipal cemetery through Monday have been called off because of the snow.
Austrian police, meanwhile, said that a 16-year-old boy from Australia was killed in an avalanche in St Anton am Arlberg as he was skiing with his family on Wednesday.
In neighbouring Slovakia, the mountain rescue service said a 37-year-old man was killed by an avalanche in the Mala Fatra mountains.
The search operation had to be abandoned amid failing light last night, but no hotel guests, skiers or hikers were reported missing
Rescue teams have been conducting searches in the avalanche area, which lies at the foot of Säntis mountain (back centre) – the highest peak in eastern Switzerland’s Alpstein massif.
The road to Hundwil was closed after an avalanche came down, burying cars and part of the restaurant of Hotel Santis
Snow has caused chaos across Europe including in Austria (pictured) where up to two metres of snow have come down in recent days
A seven-year-old child was killed in Aying, near Munich, by a falling tree which was reportedly weighed down by snow.
That brought to at least 17 the number of weather-related deaths reported in Europe over the past week.
Several railway lines in the Alps were closed because of the snow, lorries and cars got stuck for hours on a highway in south-western Germany and schools were closed in parts of Bavaria.
Roads into several places were closed although Galtuer in western Austria, where a massive avalanche in 1999 killed 31 people, was reachable again on Thursday after being cut off.
The Austrian minister responsible for tourism, Elisabeth Koestinger, said that “in most skiing areas, there is no reason for concern at present if people keep to the rules and don’t leave the secured slopes”.
Austrian public broadcaster ORF reported that the weather was expected to calm on Friday but further heavy snow could be expected on Sunday.
Troops have moved in to rescue people trapped in their homes after heavy snowfall in Germany amid reports Europe’s whiteout will last until at least the middle of next week. Pictured: A tracked support vehicle makes its way along a snow-covered road in Berchtesgaden
Soldiers used tracked support vehicles to battle through drifts in the town of Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps close to the Austrian border
They were also seen shovelling snow from the tops of buildings as part of their emergency response to the huge downfalls
A snow-covered car drives along a snow-covered street in the town of Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, last night
The death toll from the severe weather has risen to at least 17 as heavy snowfall continued to cause problems in Austria and southern Germany
A soldier of the German armed forces Bundeswehr leaves the Jaeger barracks in Berchtesgaden to remove snow from buildings in Berchtesgaden
There were reports earlier this week that as many as 350 people were stuck and in need of food supplies in Berchtesgaden
A soldier carries his snow shoes in Berchtesgaden ahead of work to remove snow from buildings in the town
In the Czech Republic, around 9,000 households were without electricity on Thursday after heavy snow in regions bordering Germany and Austria.
On Norway’s Arctic Svalbard islands, more than 100 people were evacuated as a precaution because of a storm and the risk of avalanches. The Svalbard archipelago is 500 miles north of Norway’s mainland.
Norwegian news agency NTB said 29 dwellings at the foot of the Sukkertoppen mountain were evacuated, and a school, kindergartens, a sports facility and public library closed. In the north of mainland Norway, authorities warned of a risk of avalanches.
The Swedish Meteorological Institute on Thursday sent out warnings for a storm and heavy snowfalls over northern Sweden.