8 survivors found in avalanche-hit Italy hotel


Penne, Italy: Two young children were among eight people pulled alive on Friday from the ruins of an Italian mountain hotel, nearly two days after it was buried under a devastating avalanche.
The rescues raised hopes of finding more survivors with efforts under way to locate between 17 and 24 others thought to have been in the hotel when the avalanche struck on Wednesday afternoon.
Evacuated by helicopter, the rescued survivors were taken to hospitals in the cities of Pescara and Aquila. Some were being treated for hypothermia but no-one was in a serious condition, officials said.
They were pulled out after more than 40 hours under the snow-covered rubble of the Hotel Rigopiano, a three-storey spa hotel on the eastern lower slops of Monte Gran Sasso, the highest peak in central Italy.
Marco Bini, an officer with the mountain rescue wing of the GDF financial police, said the survivors seemed to have been able to light fires to keep themselves warm as temperatures plummeted at 1,200 metres altitude.
“We saw smoke, there were a few small fires in the rubble, and where there is fire there is air so we started to dig.”
He said six people had been found together in an air pocket, including a mother and child. “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.” With 15 GDF rescuers and firefighters digging, the survivors could hear their efforts and knew help was on its way, Bini said.
“Their faces said it all, it was like they had been reborn. “After all the work we are overjoyed to have found them alive.”
A video released by firefighters showed a young child, apparently a boy of about six, being pulled out of a vertical tunnel in the snow. He seemed to be in good condition as firemen mussed his hair.
“More diggers are arriving on the site now. We studied a plan of the layout of the hotel but after the avalanche it wasn’t clear what was where,” he said, saying the search would continue.
“We hope there are other pockets of air, and the snow will have prevented anyone inside from getting too cold, it isolates like an igloo.”
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 be as high as 34, among them 20 to 22 guests, seven or eight staff members and an unknown number of casual visitors to the four-star hotel.
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.
Most of the guests were thought to have been in or around the hotel’s entrance when the avalanche struck late on Wednesday afternoon.
They had been waiting for transport to take them home after earthquakes in the region earlier in the day. 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 that could endanger anyone still clinging to life under the rubble.
Lorenzo Gagliardi, one of the first mountain police officers to arrive on Thursday morning, had earlier recounted the apocalyptic scene he found there in an interview with AFPTV.
Two men who had been outside the hotel were found alive in their car but two other people located under the ruins could not be saved.
Gagliardi and his colleagues had trekked for more than eight kilometres through two-metre-high snow to reach the hotel around 4:00 am on Thursday. — AFP