Italy avalanche: Search still on for survivors

The search and rescue operation after Wednesday’s avalanche has been hampered by snow blocking the only road to the Hotel Rigopiano and fears of triggering a fresh avalanche.

By   |   Published: 20th Jan 2017   3:11 pm Updated: 20th Jan 2017   3:13 pm
Italy avalanche
Italian firefighters search for survivors after an avalanche buried a hotel near Farindola, central Italy, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. Photo: AP

Farindola: Rescue crews continued to dig by hand on Friday through metres of snow and debris in the search for some 30 people trapped inside a remote Italian mountain resort flattened by a huge avalanche following a series of strong earthquakes.

Two bodies have been recovered, and Italian state media reported another two had been located in the snow, as hopes of finding survivors dimmed.

A convoy of rescue vehicles made slow progress to the hotel, blocked by snow piled three meters high in some places, fallen trees and rocks. By late yesterday, only 25 vehicles had arrived, along with 135 rescue workers, and civil protection authorities said part of the night was spent trying to widen the road.

The first rescue teams had arrived on skis early Thursday, and firefighters were dropped in by helicopter.

Snowmobiles were also being mobilised.

Two people escaped the devastation at the Hotel Rigopiano in the quake-stricken mountains of central Italy and called for help. But it took hours for responders to arrive at the remote hotel, located about 45 kilometres from the coastal city of Pescara, at an altitude of about 1,200 meters.

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 Wednesday, just as the first of four powerful earthquakes struck the region.

It wasn’t 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.

“The situation is catastrophic,” said Marshall Lorenzo.

Italy avalanche stuck hotel
Image made available by the Italian Guardia di Finanza finance police shows the avalanche inside the Rigopiano Hotel, near Farindola, Italy, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. Photo: PTI

Gagliardi of the Alpine rescue service, who was among the first at the scene. “The mountain-facing side is completely destroyed and buried by snow: the kitchen, hotel rooms, hall.” One of the survivors reported that the guests had all checked out and were waiting for the road to be cleared to be able to leave. The snow plow scheduled for mid afternoon never arrived, and the avalanche hit sometime around 5:30 pm on Wednesday.

Prosecutors have opened a manslaughter investigation in the tragedy, and among the hypotheses being pursued is whether the avalanche threat wasn’t taken seriously enough, according to Italian media.