Sion, Switzerland - Police found a survivor of a mudslide that partially buried a Swiss village, as the death toll from weekend storms in Europe rose to at least 12, with 24 others still missing and feared dead.

Torrential rains battered parts of Switzerland, Italy and France, unleashing massive mudslides, flooding towns and villages, and causing water levels in the region's rivers and lakes to rise, sometimes to record levels.

Two people died and at least 13 others were still unaccounted for in south-western Switzerland following a weekend of non-stop rain.

In northern Italy, a state of emergency was to be declared after nine people died, 11 were missing and hundreds more evacuated.

On the French Mediterranean island of Corsica, a shepherd was found drowned on Saturday afternoon in a tributary of the Restonica, firefighters said.

In the Swiss mountain village of Gondo, near the Italian border, rescuers found a woman on Monday under debris after detecting some signs of life following a massive landslide, said police spokesperson Michel Clavien.

A slight improvement in weather conditions allowed rescue workers to continue their search for those still missing on Monday, authorities said.

Heavy lifting gear was being set up in Gondo after the village was sliced in two by the 40-metre wide column of mud that destroyed a third of the village on Saturday morning before plunging into a nearby river.

In Gondo, home to about 150 people, 11 are still unaccounted for and two more are missing in the region. Rain was continuing to fall in Gondo on Monday although it had let up in other parts of the region also hit by flooding and mudslides over the weekend.

Disaster struck the village after the collapse of a retaining wall built above a cliff overlooking the village, geologist Jean Daniel Rouiller said.

Meanwhile, local authorities have appealed for people to avoid driving or using the telephone. About 50 Swiss soldiers are helping in the rescue effort, carefully searching the debris, Brigadier Daniel Rubaty said.

"The main drinking water pipes have been destroyed, as well as the sewers," police officer Bernard Geiger said.

The southwestern Valais region has seen 340 litres of rain fall on each square metre in three days. The average for October is 80-90 litres, said engineer Dominique Berod.

Meanwhile, waters in the Lago Maggiore, shared by Switzerland and Italy, reached a record level of 197,26 metres at Locarno early on Monday, two centimetres higher than levels attained in devastating floods in 1993, according to local authorities.

Schools in the lakeside city of Locarno have been closed until Wednesday and traffic was chaotic. Two hotels and a clinic in Locarno were evacuated on Sunday night.

At Sion, the water level in the Rhone river dropped by 60cm overnight, according to local authorities, while rain was replaced by snow at higher altitudes, alleviating the risk of more water from the mountains.

Initial estimates put the cost of the damage in the region -- described by one local resident as "the flood of the century" - at about four billion euros (about R25 billion).

In Italy, more than 50 people were plucked from roofs overnight in the northwestern Aosta valley, the worst hit area, near France and Switzerland.

Thousands of other people were affected by the floods and officials asked residents of disaster areas to use only bottled water or boil water before drinking it to prevent diseases.

Up to 600 litres of rain per square metre were recorded in some of Italy's Alpine areas in only two days, about the same amount of rain as gets recorded in Paris in an entire year.

In Lombardy, around Milan, dozens of roads were blocked on Monday morning, while rail traffic in the Pavia area was disrupted, officials said.

Italian car maker Fiat laid off 6 000 workers at its Turin Mirafiori and Rivalta plants because supplies of car components were delayed due to the heavy flooding.

Two classic Italian road races - the Milan-Turin race and the Tour of Piemont - originally scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, were cancelled.

Rains are easing up in France, allowing access to communities in Val d'Isere and Tignes in the Savoie region. - Sapa-AFP