- Associated Press - Sunday, February 12, 2012

RESTELICA, Kosovo (AP) — Rescuers have pulled a 5-year-old girl alive from the rubble of a house flattened by a massive avalanche that killed both her parents and at least seven of her relatives in a remote mountain village in southern Kosovo.

Col. Shemsi Syla, a spokesman for the Kosovo Security Force, said Sunday that the girl was discovered when officers heard her voice and the ringing of a cellphone. Her home was buried under 33 feet of snow.

Rescuers cheered in delight and pumped their fists in the air late Sauturday night as the girl was pulled out alive.

A video aired on Klan Kosova TV showed rescuers from the Kosovo Security Force and villagers covering the girl with blankets before rushing her from the remote village to the hospital.

Osman Qerreti, an emergency official at the site, told the Associated Press that at least nine members of her family died in the avalanche that hit the village of Restelica near Kosovo’s border with Macedonia and Albania Saturday, destroying seven houses, of which only two were inhabited.

Amid subfreezing temperatures and fierce snowstorms Sunday, local villagers used shovels to dig deep into the snow-covered rubble — all that remained of the one-story brick houses that housed the Reka family. One more person is believed missing.

“No bigger tragedy has ever struck this region,” said local district official Behar Ramadani. “Two brothers with their wives and children have been killed.”

The girl, identified as Asmira Reka, was recovering in hospital in the nearby town of Prizren. Doctors said her life was not in danger, but she lost both her father and mother in the avalanche and was buried for more than 10 hours.

NATO peacekeepers, deployed in Kosovo to end the armed conflict between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians in 1999, had been called in to help local authorities in the rescue operation, but they were unable to land a helicopter in the fierce blizzard.

Rescuers initially dug out the bodies of a married couple and their 17-year-old son. Six more bodies were discovered during the overnight and Sunday excavation.

The cold snap in Europe, which began in late January, has killed hundreds of people — most of them homeless. Heavy snow has been blanketing the Balkans for more than two weeks, with Restelica and roads in the region blocked for several days.

In neighboring Montenegro, where the government introduced a state of emergency because of the deep freeze, special police forces on Sunday managed to reach about 50 train passengers stranded for two days after tracks were blocked by avalanches.

Police said a 55-year-old passenger had died from a heart attack Saturday night, while the other passengers were sheltering in a nearby tunnel waiting for evacuation.

The airport in Podgorica remained closed Sunday, and the streets were blocked by snow that has reached 57 22 inches — the highest since measurements started in the capital in 1949.

Authorities have banned driving in the capital, while many parked cars were damaged after snow-covered trees fell on them.

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