Hiddensee Helicopter Mission Stranded Tourists Rescued from Ice-Bound Island

Military helicopters have transported dozens of tourists stranded on the Baltic Sea island of Hiddensee to safety. The rescue mission also brought supplies to the 1,000 islanders. Meanwhile storm front "Miriam" has been causing snowy chaos across Germany.

An ice-bound island in the Baltic Sea, isolated after Germany was hit by freezing weather, has been the focus of an extraordinary rescue mission.

Over 100 tourists had been left stranded on Hiddensee and islanders had been without supplies ever since the sea surrounding the idyllic island turned to ice late last week.

On Wednesday, however, the German military came to the rescue. A naval helicopter landed and took off several times during the day to ferry around 70 of the holidaymakers back to safety.

"The aircraft have been in the air since 8 a.m.," Bundeswehr spokesman Werner Cavalleri told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Wednesday. Each flight was capable of transporting 10 tourists plus their luggage from the island. Cavalleri said the mission was not dangerous. "These are rescue helicopters. They are robust. The decisive factor is visibility."

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Photo Gallery: Chilly Rescue

Another military helicopter brought in tons of supplies, including groceries and medicines, to the islanders on Wednesday. The last deliveries to Hiddensee had been last Thursday and by Monday bread, fruit, butter and eggs had all started to run out. On Tuesday a small private helicopter kicked off the rescue mission, arriving to take some of the tourists off the island, but the operation had to be halted due to heavy snow.

Just over 1,000 people live on the island, a popular holiday destination, which has no traffic apart from bicycles, ponies and emergency vehicles. On Wednesday Hiddensee's Mayor Manfred Gau said that almost all the tourists had now left the island. He said things were otherwise normal, with children still going to school and roads being cleared of snow.

Hiddensee is off the coast of Rügen, Germany's biggest island, which is connected to the mainland by a bridge. The sea between the two islands is now an ice sheet around 30 centimeters (12 inches) thick. An icebreaker failed to make it through to Hiddensee on Monday, forcing the authorities to use helicopters to supply the island and pick up the trapped vacationers.

According to the weather service Meteomedia, the ice sheet between Hiddensee and Rügen is not expected to melt until the end of February.

'Miriam' Causes Chaos

Meanwhile the heavy snow front known as "Miriam" that hit many parts of Germany on Tuesday has caused traffic chaos, accidents and disruption. The heavy snowfall broke the existing record of 48 centimeters, with the town of Teterow in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania seeing snowfall measuring 51 centimeters. In Bavaria and the western German region of Sauerland, several buildings saw their roofs cave in due to the weight of the snow. Many more buildings have been evacuated.

There have been a number of fatalities in traffic accidents due to the treacherous road conditions and kilometers of traffic jams as the country grapples with the effects of the storm. Many schools right across the country remained closed on Wednesday due to the poor conditions.

Hundreds of drivers were forced to spend the night in their cars and trucks on the A45 and A4 highways due to heavy snowfall. The Red Cross and other emergency services came to the aid of those stuck in the snow with hot drinks and blankets.

While the north and north-east of the country bore the brunt of the snow storms on Tuesday night, the storm front is moving southwards and is expected to cause heavy snowfall in the mountainous areas of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria.

smd -- with wire reports


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