IN EARLY February, the victims of the worst Slovak avalanche in recorded history were commemorated in Staré Hory near Banská Bystrica. On the evening of February 6, the avalanche slid from the south-eastern slopes of Krížna Mountain in the Veľká Fatra range, killing 18 people, 15 children of whom were children.

The avalanche was 2.5 kilometres in length and as much as 35 metres high, it carried about 600,000 tonnes of snow, and destroyed 1,200 cubic metres of trees, the TASR newswire wrote. It occurred at an elevation of 750 metres and was so big that a tunnel had to be made through it that spring to allow cattle to get to their grazing area. The avalanche took three years to melt.

The memorial event included a conference on avalanches organised by the Forestry and Wood-processing Museum in Zvolen. Milan Longauer of the museum told the SITA newswire that since 1872 (when they began recording avalanches), 252 people in Slovakia have been killed in avalanches. People can check avalanche conditions at laviny.sk, the website of the mountain rescue service.

The only survivor still alive, Benjamín Strmeň (90) participated in the memorial event. He was three months old when the avalanche struck, and his sturdy cradle enabled him to breathe until he was rescued.

“This happened at about 10 in the evening, and I was found only in the morning, because I meowed like a cat,” he told the SITA newswire. “My five siblings – three brothers and two sisters – were found only two weeks later.”

His parents, who also survived, told him the story of the avalanche. The rescue operation was complicated by smaller side avalanches. The hamlet of Rybô is one of several in the municipality of Staré Hory (others are Dolný Jelenec, Polkanová, Turecká, Valentová, Richtárová, and Prašnica).