Hope for survivors as pups pulled from avalanche hotel
Emergency crews digging for survivors at an avalanche-hit hotel in Italy were cheered by the discovery of three puppies that had survived for days under tonnes of snow, giving them new hope for the 23 people still missing in the disaster.
The first human survivors, meanwhile, were released from hospital as questions intensified into whether Italian authorities underestimated the risks facing the snowbound resort in the hours before a deadly avalanche.
Five days after up to 60,000 tonnes of snow, rocks and uprooted trees ploughed into the Hotel Rigopiano in central Italy, rescue crews were still digging by hand or with shovels and chainsaws in the hope of finding alive some of the 23 people still buried.
An excavator reached the site, north-east of Rome, to speed up the search.
Firefighter spokesman Fabio German said the three puppies showed that conditions under the snow could still support life.
Emergency crews have been hoping that the missing may have found air pockets under the debris, and that the snow itself had insulated them from the freezing temperatures.
Nine people have so far been rescued from the Hotel Rigopiano and six people have died. The first survivors were released yesterday from a hospital in Pescara, including Giorgia Galassi and her boyfriend, Vincenzo Forti.
More than two days have passed since anyone has been pulled out alive from the hotel, and rescue crews were still trying to recover the body of the sixth known victim from the rubble.
The investigation intensified into whether local officials underestimated the threat facing the hotel, which was already covered with two metres of snow, had no phone service and dwindling gas supplies when a series of earthquakes rocked central Italy last Wednesday.
Italian newspapers yesterday reproduced what they said was an email sent by the hotel owner to local and provincial authorities on Wednesday asking for help because "the situation has become worrisome".
"The guests are terrorised by the earthquakes and have decided to stay out in the open," Bruno Di Tommaso wrote. "We've tried to do everything to keep them calm, but since they can't leave due to the blocked roads they're prepared to spend the night in their cars."
The Pescara prefect's office has faced criticism after a local restaurant owner said his calls reporting the avalanche were ignored. Quintino Marcella said he called the office after receiving word from one of his chefs who was staying at the Hotel Rigopiano and escaped the avalanche by chance.
One aspect of the criminal investigation into the disaster involves discovering where the province's snowploughs were being used.