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AS IT HAPPENED: Three bodies recovered, more feared dead at avalanche-struck hotel

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AS IT HAPPENED: Three bodies recovered, more feared dead at avalanche-struck hotel
The hotel after the avalanche. Photo: Vigil del Fuoco
08:43 CET+01:00
Several people have died after a ski hotel was buried by an avalanche in earthquake-hit central Italy.

Summary:

- An avalanche hit a hotel in Abruzzo in the early hours of Thursday morning.

- Several deaths are feared, according to rescue services, who were severely delayed in reaching the site due to heavy snow.

- So far, three bodies are reported to have been recovered from the area.

- Two survivors, who were outside the hotel when the avalanche struck, were rescued this morning. One, who worked at the hotel's restaurant, said his wife and two children were inside the building.

We are now closing this live blog for the day - read our wrap of today's events here. We'll be back in the morning with the latest updates.

Are you based in Abruzzo? Get in touch at news.italy@thelocal.com

Photos of the hotel taken a few days ago, 17:19: These photos show the luxury Hotel Rigopiano a few days ago, covered in snow.

One former visitor has been speaking to The Local about his memories there. "It was all fantastic: the landscape, the food, the spas, the warmth of the area and the people," said Maurizio Cavaliere.

"But it worries me that to reach this paradise, it takes a long time even from the closest inhabited towns - which are tiny villages. To get to larger towns, it takes even longer and more equipment."

Supplies arrive for rescue workers as night approaches, 17:10: Police are bringing food supplies by helicopter for the rescue workers as the sun sets in Abruzzo.

Darkness will make recovery efforts even more complicated - rescuers are already dealing with deep snow, and the fact that the search area covers hundreds of square metres because the avalanche was so powerful.

Investigation opened, 16:18: Pescara's public prosecutor has opened an investigation into culpable homicide in relation to the avalanche, SkyTG4 reports.

There is precedent in Italy for people being sentenced after deaths in natural disasters, however such sentences often spark controversy.

After the l'Aquila earthquake of 2009, in which 300 people died, an Italian engineer was sentenced to jail over the deaths of 13 people, who lost their lives when a building he had restored collapsed. He was acquitted by Italy's top court last year.

And in 2015, Italy's top court cleared six scientists who had each been handed controversial jail sentences for failing to properly warn the population over the potential dangers of a quake.

Three bodies recovered, 14:26: Including the man whose body was found this morning, three people have been found dead at the site, according to Rai News. No information about their identity has been made public and rescue efforts continue for the other missing guests and staff.

Fire service: No sign of survivors, 13:14: Confirming what La Repubblica daily reported a few minutes ago, Italy's fire service has said its rescue dog units are at the scene, but that there has been no sign of life from any of the missing people. Firefighters arrived by helicopter earlier this morning, but the roads have only just been cleared of snow allowing further units to join them.

Rescue dog units and firefighters have also arrived by road, at the moment no signs from the missing people.

Guests were ready to leave when avalanche hit, 13:05: The hotel guests were reportedly waiting in the entrance hall to leave, but had been unable to due to a delay in the snowplough which was supposed to clear the roads.

"They had packed their bags, all the guests wanted to go," Quintino Marcello, who ran the hotel's restaurant, told La Repubblica. "They had been told that the snowplough would arrive at 3pm, but it was then pushed back to 7pm."

Rescue efforts are underway, with spades, dogs and video equipment all being used, and the underground sauna is being searched.

The violence of the avalanche - which moved the entire hotel by ten metres - is making things difficult. Journalists on the scene say that trees, mattresses and other items from the hotel are all mixed in with the snow.

25 still unaccounted for, 12:12: 25 people, including several children, remain unaccounted for as rescue work continues.

Francesco Provolo, the head of the Pescara province where the disaster occurred, said there had been around 20 people staying at the hotel, including "several children" along with seven or eight staff.

Emergency services are struggling to get ambulances and excavation equipment to the remote site with the first snow plough only arriving just before midday.

Rescuers digging with hands, still no word on further survivors, 12:04: There is still no update on any further rescue efforts after the two reported this morning, who were able to be saved as they were outside the building at the time of the avalanche. One of the two known survivors, staff member Giampaolo Parete, said earlier his wife and two children were still inside the hotel.

Rescue efforts continue to be hampered by the harsh weather conditions, with emergency service workers digging through the snow with their hands, according to La Repubblica. There are ten firefighters inside the building.

The paper reported that staff and guests may have sought refuge in the underground saunas, however there has still been no response to rescuers' calls.

Rescuers have reached the hotel, 11:36: After hours of battling through two-metre walls of snow, rescuers have finally reached the hotel. The prefecture of Pescara has confirmed the death of at least one man, whose body was recovered earlier this morning.

Hotel 'permanently closed', 11:32: The Google listing for the four-star Hotel Rigopiano has been updated to say it is "permanently closed". On Tuesday, hotel staff had tweeted: "A dream Tuesday at Rigopiano... the snow has given us the gift of spectacular scenery!"

First pictures from inside the hotel, 10:48: Italy's Rai broadcaster is with rescuers who have finally been able to enter the hotel after hours of struggling through two-metre-high snowfall.

The first images show ice and rubble inside the hotel, along with festive decorations.

L'Aquila orders school closures, 10:43: L'Aquila, the area where the epicentres of yesterday's quakes were located, has ordered the closure of all local schools on Friday and Saturday (Italian students usually attend school for half a day on Saturdays).

On Wednesday, several schools in nearby Rieti and even the capital Rome - which was about 100km away from the epicentre but where tremors were still felt - were evacuated and closed for the day. However, this was a decision made by individual headteachers and the regions did not order school closures.

Aerial video, 10:39: A video shared by Italy's national police force shows the Rigopiano hotel, completely submerged by snow.

'No signs of life', 10:24: Specialist mountain police said there were no signs of life inside the building, which was moved by some ten metres by the force of the snow, local media reported.

Rescuers at the hotel are reported to have a snow mobile capable of transporting up to eight people.

Ambulances remain blocked by two metres of snow some nine kilometres (5.5 miles) away, according to the civil protection agency.

Antonio Di Marco, president of the province of Pescara, which includes the mountain village of Farindola, close to where the hotel is located, said two people had been found alive.

"We don't know yet how many people are unaccounted for or dead," he wrote on his Facebook page.

"What is certain is that the building took a direct hit from the avalanche, to the point that it was moved by 10 metres."

Avalanche warnings issued across the park, 10:22: Avalanche warnings have been issued across the region which is dominated by Gran Sasso, a majestic 2,912 metres (9,554 feet) peak. The area has numerous small ski resorts popular with day-trippers from Rome and urban centres on Italy's east coast.

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

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

Some 130,000 homes were without electricity overnight as a result of quake-damage to pylons and other infrastructure.

Video of rescue, 10:13: This video shows rescue workers helping a man leave the hotel.

It shows just how deep the snow is in the mountainous region, where up to two metres has fallen. Ambulances are reportedly still stuck 9km away from the hotel, with rescue workers having arrived on skis and in helicopters this morning.

Survivor testimony, 10:09: "I was saved because I had gone to get something by car," one of the survivors told doctors, Ansa reported.

Giampaolo Parete, 38, was the one to raise the alarm about the avalanche via Whatsapp. His wife and two children are thought to be still trapped inside the building.

Two rescued guests in hospital, 10:02: The two people whom we reported earlier had been rescued have been transported to hospital by helicopter, one suffering from hypothermia, Ansa reports. Their condition is not critical however. 

The hotel before the avalanche: This picture shows the luxury hotel before the disaster.

The below publicity video for the hotel shows all its facilities, including pools, a luxury spa and restaurant, as well as the idyllic-seeming surroundings.

 

Earthquakes: 80 aftershocks overnight, one dead, 9:52: The avalanche in Farindola was caused by the same seismic movement that led to four earthquakes over magnitude 5 on Wednesday. During the night, there were 80 aftershocks in the region, and Italian media have reported that one 83-year-old died following the collapse of a farm building.

Despite the major tremors, no other casualties had been reported on Wednesday from the earthquakes.

Yesterday, Amatrice's mayor Sergio Pirozzi appealed for help from authorities in clearing snow from roads. Pirozzi said: "The emergency situation is not the earthquake, but the snow."

He cursed his region's bad luck, saying: "We haven't had snow like this in 70 years. What did we do wrong?"

READ MORE: Central Italy reels from four strong earthquakes

One body recovered, 9:43: A body has been recovered, Italian news agency Ansa reports. There is no information yet about the identity or age of the victim.

Two children in the hotel, 9:40: According to Abruzzo paper Il Centro, two of the hotel's guests were children aged eight and six.

How to help, 9:36: Terremoto Centro Italia, an organization set up after last year's deadly quakes, shares information on how to offer accommodation, material help and services to those affected by the earthquake. There is also a form to ask for help if you have been affected.

A map of emergency shelters in the l'Aquila region can be found here.

'No response' to rescuers, 9:32: Rescue workers are at the hotel, with one telling La Repubblica: "We are calling out but no-one responds".

"It's a tragic mixture between an earthquake and an avalanche," the rescue worker is reported to have said.

Deaths still unconfirmed, 9:30: Italy's Civil Protection Agency said it could not immediately confirm any deaths out of respect for the families of the guests and staff, AFP reports.

It said there had been around 30 guests and staff at the Hotel Rigopiano on the eastern lower slopes of the Gran Sasso mountain when the first of four powerful quakes hit the region on Wednesday morning.

Photo of the hotel, 9:28: Italy's fire service have shared the following aerial view of the avalanche-hit hotel.

Photo: Vigili del Fuoco

Map of the location, 9:20: Farindola, the town where the hotel is located, lies between L'Aquila and Teramo, two of the provinces badly hit by yesterday's earthquakes.

The Hotel Rigopiano is at the edge of the mountainous Gran Sasso national park, one of Europe's largest protected areas and among the most biologically diverse.

Rescue helicopter on the scene, 9:15: Right now, rescue teams from Italy's fire service are arriving at the scene by helicopter. In a tweet, firefighters said they aimed to use pulleys in the rescue effort.

Emergency services delayed by 'walls of snow', 9:11: Italy's police have shared updates on the rescue operation. Teams of rescue workers and dogs travelled to the area this morning to help locate missing people

Our rescue dogs are on the way after travelling through walls of snow to find the missing from the Hotel Rigopiano hit by an avalanche. We're digging through the snow.

We're pushing through the snow, a few hundred metres to go and our rescue teams will arrive at Rigopiano.

What we know so far

"There are many dead," Antonio Crocetta, the head of a group of Alpine police that was trying to reach the cut-off hotel, was quoted as saying.

Media reports said there had been at least 20 guests and seven staff at the Hotel Rigopiano on the lower slopes of the Gran Sasso mountain when the first of four powerful quakes hit the region on Wednesday morning.

An Alpine rescue team spent the night trying to reach Rigopiano, the hotel hit by an avalanche, using skis and snowshoes. Heroes.

Two people have reportedly been rescued and are in good condition, with many still missing.

The four-star hotel is located in the town of Farindola, Pescara and was struck by an avalanche likely caused by the series of major earthquakes which hit Italy on Wednesday.

The mayor of Farindola, Ilario Laccheta, wrote on his Facebook profile: "The avalanche is significant and has affected the whole of the hotel. The surrounding area remains dangerous."

More to follow.

 

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