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Monday 18 December 2017

'Miracle' as 10 pulled alive from avalanche horror

Rescuers pull survivors, including a young boy and a woman, from the Italian hotel buried by
the avalanche. Photo: Italian Firefighters/ANSA via AP
Rescuers pull survivors, including a young boy and a woman, from the Italian hotel buried by the avalanche. Photo: Italian Firefighters/ANSA via AP
This aerial view taken from a drone shows rescuers working amidst snow and debris. Photo: Italian Firefighters/ANSA via AP
Firefighters rescue a survivor from Hotel Rigopiano in Farindola, central Italy. Photo: Vigili del Fuoco/Handout via Reuters

Four children and a woman have been pulled from the wreckage of a hotel in central Italy two days after it was flattened by an avalanche.

Another five people were found alive under the debris of the Rigopiano hotel in Farindola, in the lower Gran Sasso mountains.

Video released by rescuers showed a boy, wearing blue ski trousers and a matching shirt, emerging from the hotel.

Next was a woman with a long ponytail wearing red ski trousers. "Brava, brava!" the rescuers cheered.

The survivors appeared fully alert and walking on their own, but both were helped down to a stretcher for a helicopter ride out.

"This first news has obviously repaid all the rescuers' efforts," Italy's Deputy Interior Minister Filippo Bubbico said.

Meanwhile, an Italian firefighter said rescue crews have indications of other survivors under the rubble.

Speaking to Sky TG24, Giuseppe Romano declined to confirm suggestions of another five possible survivors, but did say "other people have responded to our signals".

Devastation

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. They are being flown by helicopter to local hospitals.

About 30 people were trapped inside the luxury Hotel Rigopiano when the avalanche hit on Wednesday afternoon, with two people initially surviving the devastation and calling for help.

Search and rescue teams had maintained hope of finding survivors, even though the avalanche dumped up to 5m of snow on the hotel.

"We are hoping that the ceiling collapsed partially in some places and that someone remained underneath," said rescuer Lorenzo Gagliardi.

Four bodies have been found so far.

The operations have been hampered by difficulty in accessing the remote hotel.

Workers have been clearing a 9km road to bring in heavier equipment but it can only handle one-way traffic.

A convoy of rescue vehicles made slow progress to the hotel, blocked by snow piled 3m high in some places, fallen trees and rocks.

The first rescue teams arrived on skis early on Thursday, and firefighters were dropped in by helicopter. Snowmobiles were also used. Days of heavy snowfall had knocked out electricity and phone lines in many central Italian towns and hamlets, and the hotel phones went down early on Wednesday, just as the first of four powerful earthquakes struck the region.

It was not clear if the quakes triggered the avalanche, but emergency responders said the force of the massive snow slide collapsed a wing of the hotel that faced the mountain and rotated another off its foundation, pushing it downhill.

Tragedy

One of the survivors reported that the guests had all checked out and were waiting for the road to be cleared to leave.

The snow plough scheduled for mid-afternoon never arrived, and the avalanche hit sometime around 5.30pm on Wednesday.

Prosecutors have opened a manslaughter investigation into the tragedy, and among the hypotheses being pursued is whether the avalanche threat was not taken seriously enough, according to Italian media.

Farindola Mayor Ilario Lacchetta said the hotel had 24 guests, four of them children, and 12 employees were on-site at the time of the avalanche.

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