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Europe

Survivors found in avalanche-hit hotel in Italy

© CNSAS/AFP | A handout picture by the Corpo Nazionale Soccorso Alpino e Speleologico (CNSAS) shows a rescuer in front of the avalanche-hit Hotel Rigopiano on January 19, 2017.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-01-20

At least six people have been found alive by rescuers following a devastating avalanche that buried an Italian mountain hotel, according to emergency responders and local media.

Six people were found alive on Friday, more than 24 hours after a barrage of snow hit the Hotel Rigopiano, ripping the three-storey building from its foundations and moving it ten metres.

Fire brigade spokesman Luca Cari said the survivors had still not been pulled out. "They are alive and we are talking to them," he told Reuters by telephone, speaking from the scene.

At least 25 people, including several children, were missing as of Friday morning and rescuers had vowed to keep looking for them as they began a second day of searching.

Rescue workers earlier admitted that the prospects of anyone being rescued alive looked bleak, with search efforts hampered by heavy snow that blocked access roads to the remote site until the early hours of the morning after the avalanche hit.

"We're holding on to hope that there are survivors inside," Deputy Interior Minister Filippo Bubbico told reporters Thursday in the town of Penne, where a camp for rescue workers has been set up.

"Firefighters and alpine rescuers are working tirelessly and now the army is doing everything to improve access to the route," he said.

Special army mountain rescue teams were seen riding in vehicles with caterpillar tracks.

"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.

"As long as there is hope of finding survivors we'll be there."

Two bodies have been extracted from the rubble and two survivors suffering from hypothermia taken to hospital.

Italian broadcasters showed images of piles of masonry and rubble in the entrance area of what they dubbed a "coffin hotel".

Wife and children missing

The region was hit by four seismic shocks measuring above five magnitude in the space of four hours on Wednesday. Quake experts said the tremors almost certainly triggered the snowslide.

The hotel's guests had been assembled on the ground floor awaiting an evacuation following the quakes that was delayed by snow-blocked roads when the avalanche struck.

Local officials confirmed two guests who were not inside when the avalanche hit had been rescued.

One of them, identified as Giampiero Parete, 38, was quoted by friends in Italian media as saying his wife and two children, a girl aged six and a boy aged eight, had been inside the hotel.

Officials said there had been between 20 and 22 guests staying and seven or eight staff on duty at the hotel on the eastern lower slopes of the Gran Sasso mountain. It was unclear if there were any additional people in the hotel.

Fears for some local families

The hotel, a four-star establishment with its own spa and indoor pool, was located at an altitude of 1,200 metres (3,900 feet) around 90 kilometres (55 miles) east of the epicentres of Wednesday's earthquakes. They were also centred near Amatrice, the town devastated in an August quake in which nearly 300 people died.

The quakes affected an area that straddles the regions of Lazio, Marche and Abruzzo, home to many remote mountain hamlets.

Although many residents were evacuated from their homes after last year's quakes, there were fears for families who decided to stay and are now cut off.

Schools in the affected region have been closed until next week to allow structural safety checks to be carried out.

Italy straddles the Eurasian and African tectonic plates, making it vulnerable to seismic activity when they move.

Since the Amatrice disaster, there have been nine shocks measuring more than a five magnitude and a total of 47,000 registered aftershocks.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2017-01-20

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