Rescuers search for survivors after avalanche hits hotel in central Italy

Miranda GreerЯнв 21, 2017

Rescuers at an avalanche-buried hotel in central Italy pulled survivors Friday from under tons of snow that roared down a mountainside after earthquakes two days ago.

Some survivors reportedly took refuge beneath a collapsed portion of the hotel, lighting a fire to keep warm.

Ms Federica Chiavaroli, a junior minister at the Justice Ministry, confirmed the dramatic development to reporters in the nearby town of Penne, where the rescue effort was being coordinated and some relatives were anxiously awaiting news of missing loved ones.

Notably the avalanche which has crushed Italy's Rigopiano hotel is believed to have been caused by a series of strong earthquakes in the region on Wednesday.

"A small avalanche has created a wall of snow across the path to the hotel, we are heading up there now to knock it down", said army Major Nicola Cappozolo. A mother and her daughter were among the first to be lifted from snow as deep as 15 feet in places, it said.

Taking into account the two bodies found in the early hours of Thursday when rescuers first reached the site, that would leave a minimum of 17 and a maximum of 24 people left under the ruins.

Rescue workers told RAI state television the survivors' conditions were remarkably good, and that they had survived thanks to an air pocket in the kitchen.

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An avalanche buried the Riopiano hotel (bottom right), the only one in the Gran Sasso National Park, with up to 30 guests and staff members inside.

Snow and debris spills inside the Rigopiano Hotel, near Farindola, after an avalanche.

"They are alive and we are talking to them", fire brigade spokesman Luca Cari told Reuters, speaking from the scene.

"They can give us a series of indications to help with our intervention plan, information to understand what happened and help direct the search", she said. Rescue teams could take up to three hours to get there as they need to cover roughly 50 km in treacherous weather conditions to get there.

He said he missed being caught in the destruction only because he had walked to his auto to get medicine for his wife just before the avalanche hit.

Cheers and applause can be heard as a young child emerges from a snow-covered hole.

The disaster struck during a driving snowstorm on Wednesday, hours after four earthquakes above magnitude 5 rattled the region.

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