Belgium declares day of mourning after crash

Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo on Wednesday declared a national day of mourning in Belgium following the horrific coach crash in Switzerland that killed 28 people, including 22 children.

Belgium declares day of mourning after crash
Luc Van Braekel (File)

“It is a black day for our country, all Belgians share our immense sadness, there is no word to express what we feel,” Di Rupo said in a statement.

“The government has decided a day of national mourning will be observed.”

The statement followed a special cabinet meeting called after the accident by Di Rupo, who is to fly to Switzerland to the scene of the tragedy later in the day.

There were no immediate details on the day of mourning.

Di Rupo also said that ten Dutch, one German and one Polish child were among the 52 people aboard the bus when it crashed, six of them adults, including the two drivers.

Deputy premier and health minister Laurette Onkelinx said many of the children injured were in serious condition, including three in a coma, Belga news agency reported.

Parents of the children on their way home from a skiiing holiday when the coach slammed into a motorway tunnel on Tuesday night were also headed for Switzerland aboard a government plane.

A total of 28 people died in the crash near the town of Sierre, Swiss police said, including the six adults, but the exact cause was not yet known.

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Weather warning: Part of Swiss Alps placed on high avalanche alert

Due to the heavy snowfall in recent days and more expected until the weekend, an avalanche warning is issued for Switzerland’s southern canton of Valais.

Weather warning: Part of Swiss Alps placed on high avalanche alert
Avalanche warnings should be taken very seriously. Photo by AFP

Valais authorities said the current avalanche risk level is between 4 and 5, meaning ‘high’ to ‘extreme’.

The population is urged to stay at home. When out, they should obey the signs and especially stay away from the avalanche corridors, officials warned.

Significant amounts of snow have fallen in the area in recent days, dumping 1 metre of snow above the altitude of 2,000 metres in the upper part of the canton. Between 30 and 40 centimetres are still expected. 

The highest risk of avalanches is in the Goms valley, the Zermatt valley, as well as the entire right bank of the Rhône. 

Some particularly threatened areas could even be evacuated, authorities said.

People planning to go skiing in Valais over the next few days should check snow conditions and avalanche warnings in place, especially as many roads, mainly in Upper Valais, are cut off, and a number of villages in the Goms Valley, Lötschental and the Zermatt region are no longer accessible by road or train. 

The Avalanche Bulletin is a good source of information not just for Valais, but for all of Switzerland’s mountain regions.

READ MORE: Is the pandemic to blame for Switzerland's spate of avalanche deaths? 

Avalanches have been particularly deadly in Switzerland this winter, having claimed 14 lives so far — well above the average yearly figure of eight people.

Avalanches have caused casualties in the mountains of Valais, Vaud, Graubünden, Obwalden and Schwyz. 

With many people concerned about the potential for contracting coronavirus on the slopes, the idea of skiing off piste has become more attractive. 

But this practice can trigger massive avalanches, so it is crucial to stay away from unsecured slopes.

READ MORE: Large crowds on Swiss ski slopes spark concern over coronavirus spread