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Avalanche swamps students in French Alps, at least 3 killed

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FRANCE — Scores of rescuers worked into the night Wednesday looking for victims of an avalanche that struck in the French Alps, killing three people after overwhelming students and a Ukrainian skier on a closed slope, officials said.

Ten students from the St.-Exupery school in Lyon, accompanied by their teacher, as well as the Ukrainian skier were in the area near Les Deux Alpes when the avalanche occurred late Wednesday afternoon, the regional Isere government said in a statement.

Two of those students and the Ukrainian died in its aftermath, they said, while a rescue operation was quickly launched to find and care for the others.

More than 60 people were part of the rescue effort, including police and dog search and rescue teams. There were also helicopters — some to ferry out the dead and injured, and others to aid in the search effort, including one equipped with a thermal camera, they said.

Eric Arnol, a ski guide at Les Deux Alpes, told BFMTV that the work to find those dead or buried continued even after the sun set in the mountainous region.

“The relief efforts continue,” the Isere government said Wednesday evening.

High avalanche risk

Gilles Strappazzon, an official in the regional Isere government, told CNN affiliate BFMTV that at least one of the victims was a 14-year-old student.

The very steep slope — about 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) above sea level — where the avalanche occurred had been closed for the day, Strappazzon told CNN affiliate BFMTV.

That area had a Level 3 out of five avalanche risk, meaning there was an above average risk of ruptures at high altitudes. Les Deux Alpes reported 33 centimeters (13 inches) of fresh snow on Wednesday alone, a significant amount following a relatively dry and mild December.

It was not immediately clear how many people (if any) remained unaccounted for Wednesday evening, or how many were found alive in the avalanche area.

The Isere government did indicate, though, that the students’ teacher was taken to CHU hospital in Grenoble.