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Europe

All missing children found alive in avalanche-hit hotel in Italy

© AFP | A handout picture released on January 20, 2017 by the Vigili del Fuoco shows a child (C) being rescued from the Hotel Rigopiano, engulfed by a powerful avalanche a day before.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-01-20

Three children were pulled alive from the ruins of an avalanche-hit hotel in central Italy Friday, firefighters said.

The rescues follow the extraction of a young boy and his mother earlier in the day and mean all four children thought to have been in the hotel when the avalanche hit on Wednesday have now been saved.

After a day of conflicting updates from the different services involved in the rescue effort, firefighters spokesman Luca Cari confirmed that a total of 10 survivors had been found alive by nightfall.

Some of them are still under the rubble, however, and may be injured. Others are still unaccounted for.

Family rescue

A mother and son were among a group of six people found in an air pocket on Friday morning.

They were identified as the wife and son of Giampiero Parete, one of the two survivors found sheltering in a car outside the hotel on Thursday.

Parete, a chef, had gone to the car to get his wife's headache pills just before the avalanche struck.

By late afternoon, the survivors had spent a full two days under the snow-covered rubble of the Hotel Rigopiano, a three-storey spa hotel on the eastern lower slopes of Monte Gran Sasso, the highest peak in central Italy.

Igloo effect

Marco Bini, one of the officers who reached the first group of six survivors, said the rescue team had been alerted to their possible location when they detected smoke from fires they had lit to keep warm.

He said six people had been found together in an air pocket, including the mother and child, who were later shown emerging from a vertical tunnel in the snow.

"They were all in reasonable health, if very cold. The fire will have been using up the oxygen, so we were lucky to find them.

"Their faces said it all, it was like they had been reborn."

A video released by firefighters showed the Parete's son, thought to be seven, emerging into the air to cheers and friendly hair ruffles from firefighters.

Bini said the rescue had raised hopes others would be found in similar air pockets.

"The snow will have prevented anyone inside from getting too cold; it isolates like an igloo," he said.

More than 25 people, including several children, were thought to have been in the hotel when it was hit by a massive wall of snow.

Revised estimates on Friday suggested the total could have been as high as 34.
 

Deafening cracks

Most of the guests were waiting to leave when the avalanche struck late Wednesday afternoon.

They had decided to leave after earthquakes in the region earlier in the day, but the heavy snow blocked roads and delayed their transport.

Scores of mountain police, firefighters and other emergency personnel were deployed at the hotel.

Progress was agonisingly slow, with rescuers wary of triggering further movements in the snow piled up on top of the masonry.

The first rescuers to reach the hotel trekked for more than eight kilometres (nearly five miles) through two-metre-high snow to get there around 4am on Thursday.

They got there just in time to prevent Parete and fellow survivor Fabio Salzetta from succumbing to hypothermia.

Parete said his family was among the guests who wanted to leave hours before the avalanche.

"We'd paid the bill and were waiting for a snowplough to clear the road," he said.

"My wife told me she had a headache, so I went to the car to get some pills for her.

"As soon as I got out I felt this wind and then this deafening noise of trees cracking, trunks cascading down the hillside.

"Then the hotel collapsed under this enormous wave of snow and half the mountain. My car was the only thing that escaped, by a few centimetres."

The national civil protection agency said four people had died as a result of the quake, not counting those at the hotel.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2017-01-20

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