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Four dead in massive French Alps avalanche

Rhône: A father, his two teenage sons and their guide died in the French Alps on Monday after being engulfed by an avalanche at Tignes ski resort, rescue workers said.

Sources at Tignes ski school told AFP the four victims were a father, his son aged 19, a stepson aged 15 and their 60-year-old guide, described as "well-known and a very good skier".

All four had been carrying transmitters designed to help rescuers locate avalanche victims.

The group were snowboarding off-piste only a few dozen metres (yards) from a ski lift when the avalanche hit, and staff raised the alarm immediately, officials said.

The cascade of snow and ice was some 400 metres) wide.

Around 40 rescue workers with sniffer dogs and snowploughs were deployed to search the snow for other possible victims but fears that there was a fifth casualty were later dispelled.

"We have reason to believe there are no other victims," local official Nicolas Martenchard told reporters.

Authorities had initially said there were nine people in the group.

The avalanche was the deadliest of its kind in the French Alps since the start of the winter and took place at the height of France`s annual ski holidays.

Last month, 29 people died in Italy after an avalanche buried a hotel in the central town of Rigopiano.Staff in Tignes, which is situated near the Italian border, raised the alarm at around 10:35 am (0935 GMT) after witnessing the wall of snow barrel down the mountain.

Rescue workers backed by two helicopters rushed to the scene, located at an altitude of 2,100 metres (6,900 feet).

The avalanche risk in the area was listed as three on a scale of five on Monday.

At level three, a single skier can unleash a snowslide. Ski areas are closed when the top level of five is reached.

The ski station said it was a "slab" avalanche, caused when dense wind-packed snow breaks off.

Before Monday, 13 accidents had been recorded in the Alps and Pyrenees so far this winter, claiming a total of three lives.

One of the worst avalanches in the past decade took place in the summer of 2012 in the Mont-Blanc range. Nine climbers from Britain, Germany, Spain and Switzerland were killed as they tried to scale the north face of Mont Maudit, which translates as Cursed Mountain.

Avalanches can travel at speeds of up to 400 kilometres (250 miles) per hour.

The force of the impact of last month`s avalanche in Italy has been calculated by police as being equivalent to the three-storey stone and wood structure being hit by 4,000 fully loaded trucks.

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