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AS IT HAPPENED: Rescuers race to pull survivors from avalanche rubble

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AS IT HAPPENED: Rescuers race to pull survivors from avalanche rubble
Rescuers. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
11:45 CET+01:00
More people have reportedly been located in the rubble at avalanche-hit Hotel Rigopiano in Abruzzo, after six were found alive this morning, according to Italian media.

Summary:

- On Friday morning, rescue workers located eight survivors of the avalanche which destroyed an Italian hotel.

- Italian media reports say six survivors have been found, after it was previously reported that there were eight survivors.

- Rescue efforts have been severely hampered by heavy snowfall.

- Late-afternoon, rescuers said that only two of the original six - a mother and child - had been pulled from the rubble and taken to hospital, revising early briefings which said all six had been saved.

- At around 3pm, there were unconfirmed reports that further people had been located, though it was unclear how many, and in what state of health they were.

As the sun sets at the avalanche zone, we are closing our live blog for the day - you can read our wrap of the day's events here and we'll bring you the latest updates over the weekend.

Firefighters: Total of ten survivors, 17:49: Here is the latest update on survivor numbers, from AFP:

"A total of ten survivors were found on Friday in the ruins of an avalanche-hit hotel in central Italy, the national spokesman for the fire service said, clarifying earlier confused tallies.

The spokesman, Luca Cari, said two people, a mother and her son, had been pulled out and taken to hospital while the remaining eight were still under the rubble but had been located by rescuers."

Still a lot of confusion, 17:23: There is still plenty of confusion over the numbers of survivors, victims and those unaccounted for. 

Rescuers said late-afternoon that in fact just two of the original six - a mother and child - had been pulled from the rubble and taken to hospital, revising early briefings which said all six had been saved. Efforts were underway to extract the remaining four, they added.

Meanwhile there is still no confirmation of reports that further people have been located. Different Italian newspapers have reported that between two and five more people have been spotted by rescuers, bringing the total number of survivors up to a maximum of 11, with news agency Ansa saying rescuers have reached a seventh person and are also in contact with a woman and two children.

However, these reports should be treated with caution until confirmed.

Hotel dogs play in the snow, 16:17: This morning we brought you the happy news that Hotel Rigopiano's two resident sheepdogs, Lupo and Nuvola (Wolf and Cloud) had escaped the avalanche, walking several kilometres before being taken in and fed by a villager. A heartwarming video, dating to before the avalanche, shows the dogs playing in the snow.

According to AFP reporter Angus MacKinnon, the woman who took in Lupo and Nuvola also has the dogs' three puppies, who were born in December.

Video shows child's rescue, 16:10: The below video shows the amazing moment a child is pulled from the avalanche rubble to applause. The boy is thought to be the son of hotel employee Giampaolo Parete, though this is unconfirmed by authorities.

Hotel worker's wife and son among survivors, 15:51: Two of the six survivors rescued earlier today have been identified by media as the wife and child of hotel employee Giampaolo Parete. 

Parete, 38, was rescued yesterday - he escaped the avalanche by chance, having gone to his car to collect headache tablets for his wife. He had told media that his wife and two children, aged six and eight, were inside the hotel. 

Bodies found in bar and pool room, 15:42: Some bodies of avalanche victims were discovered in the hotel's bar and pool room, Repubblica reports, citing the mayor of nearby Farindola. What is unclear is whether this refers to new discoveries or to the three bodies which were pulled from the rubble yesterday.

'I never lost hope', 15:36: This emotional video shows the aunt of one of the children saved at the hotel today. "I never lost hope, even though I cried and cried for two days," she tells reporters, saying her feelings are "indescribable".

"The boy is alive, so maybe his parents protected him in some way," she adds.

There is very little clarity over the number of survivors and victims of the avalanche, beyond the fact that six were rescued earlier today. Because of the confusion, we won't be reporting on numbers until there is a definitive statement from the emergency services.

Livestream from rescue centre: Here's the live footage from Penne, where rescue efforts are being coordinated.

'Up to eleven survivors in total': reports, 15:25: La Repubblica reporter Corrado Zunino, who is at the rescue centre in Penne, says: "The five people who were recently spotted are still buried [under the snow]." 

If confirmed, the find will bring the number of survivors to 11 - however, we are awaiting confirmation from emergency services as to the number and indeed whether the people most recently located are still alive.

Rescue workers said earlier that they were "hopeful" of finding more survivors.

There is still some confusion as to how many people were in the hotel when the avalanche struck. This number was first reported as around 25 but was revised on Friday, with estimates saying the true figure could be as high as 32 due to 'casual visitors' to the hotel's restaurant and spa, as well as hotel guests and staff.

More survivors located, 15:14: Further survivors have been located by rescuers, according to Italian media reports.

The number of those alive has not been clarified, with numbers cited ranging from two five, and emergency services have not confirmed the news.

CLARIFICATION: Six survivors, not eight, 15:11: Italian media have now revised the total of survivors to six, not eight as had previously been reported. The total of eight had included the two found alive yesterday, who survived as they were not inside the building at the time of the avalanche.

The situation is quite confused in Abruzzo, not least because of the poor weather which has made recovery efforts difficult.

Survivors embraced rescuers, 14:12: "The survivors embraced us," one rescuer told Ansa. "The moment when we found them was wonderful".

All survivors rescued in good condition, 14:08: Great news from Rai, which reports that all eight of the avalanche survivors have been pulled from the rubble and are in good condition. They are now on their way to Pescara hospital for medical checks - and emotional reunions with loved ones.

News agency Ansa also reports all eight are rescued, citing alpine rescuer Marco Bini.

Prime Minister thanks rescuers, 14:03: Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni has thanked the thousands who are working tirelessly "to save lives and limit problems". 

It's worth remembering that in addition to the deadly avalanche at Hotel Rigopiano, the series of earthquakes on Wednesday combined with the current harsh weather conditions have caused plenty of other problems across Italy and particularly in the Abruzzo region. Numerous mountain hamlets are cut off by the snow, with families and the elderly isolated and in many cases without electricity.

Families informed, 13:56: The families of the survivors found today have all been informed and will meet their relatives at Pescara's hospital.

First video of the rescue, 13:54: Another video, this time from Rai Abruzzo, shows a woman being pulled from the rubble and helped onto a stretcher by a group of firefighters. In the background, the hum of the helicopter can be heard amidst the urgent discussion between rescuers.

Video: 'They're alive!', 13:48: The video from Italy's fire service below shows the moment that rescuers found the survivors.

"They're alive! We're working with our colleagues from Tuscany and Piedmont to get them out, but they're alive," one rescuer is heard saying to the control room.

"Six found alive, thank you," his colleague responds from the helicopter.

"We need blankets and helicopters to take them away because they're not in perfect condition, however," the rescuer responds.

Hope of finding others, 13:44: Rescue worker Marco Bini said: "Now the hope is that we will find more people still alive, even though we haven't had any signs or heard any noise".

How did they survive? 13:43: Surviving over 40 hours in metres of snow and below-freezing temperatures was no easy feat.

"They probably had something to eat, and lit a fire," alpine rescuer Marco Bini, who pulled the mother and child from the rubble, told Rai. "We heard them while we were excavating the area."

Survivors arrive at hospital 'speechless', 13:39: An ambulance carrying some of the survivors has arrived at Pescara hospital, Ansa reports.

The mother and child who were rescued this morning are "very happy and speechless", the news agency said, citing rescuers.

Fire service confirms six survivors, 13:31: In their first public update since the announcement of the survivors, Italy's fire service has referred to a total of six avalanche survivors - though numerous Italian media reports have said eight people had been located, including two children, and that six of the eight are already on their way to Pescara hospital.

"Mother and child extracted by firefighters in good condition. Rescue of four more is underway," they said in a tweet.

'Miracle', 13:25: On social media, the discovery of eight survivors after 40 hours has been quickly dubbed a 'miracle'. 

Many had feared all those inside the hotel had died after firefighters said there were "no signs of life", and Italian press had described the Hotel Rigopiano as a "coffin hotel", with Il Tempo calling it a "mortuary".

Video of helicopter rescue, 13:21: This video from Italian police shows one of the helicopters involved in the rescue effort - bringing blankets and doctors to survivors, and transporting the survivors to Pescara's hospital. So far, six of the eight survivors are on their way to the hospital, including a mother and her child.

135 rescuers, 13:11: There are 135 rescue workers at the scene, Italy's Civil Protection Agency reported.

As well as excavating the area where survivors have been found, they are working at clearing the roads leading to the hotel. One of the snow blowers has broken down however and transport authorities are en route to fix it, Repubblica reports.

Map of the location: Farindola, the town where the hotel is located, lies between L'Aquila and Teramo, two of the provinces badly hit by Wednesday'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. On Thursday, a former guest at the hotel, Maurizio Cavaliere, told The Local of his "fantastic" stay there, but added that it was worryingly isolated.

"It's a classic mountain hotel, isolated in order to guarantee a different experience, but in winter, in heavy snow there will be problems, and in an avalanche, you're isolated," said Cavaliere. "These are considerations which will be taken into account now, after the tragedy. That should have happened before."

 

Six of the eight pulled from rubble, 12:59: So far, six of the survivors have been rescued and are being taken to hospital, according to Repubblica.

The six rescued so far include two children, and the mother of one child.

Eight survivors, 12:54: Italian media are now reporting that eight survivors have been found, including two young girls.

Relatives' anguish, 12:50: The families of those missing after the avalanche are gathered at Pescara's hospital awaiting news of their loved ones.

"There are families, children's parents; the victims are mainly young people," Vincenzo Di Giovanni, a doctor at the hospital, told Rai News. "Until they have definite news, their anxiety will be tremendous."

Livestream of rescue efforts, 12:45: This live video, provided by Repubblica daily, shows the scene at Penne, the closest town to the Hotel Rigopiano and the site where rescue efforts are being co-ordinated.

Details about survivors, 12:42: according to Italy's Civil Protection Agency, the six survivors are three men, two women and the young girl whom Italy's deputy Interior Minister referred to earlier.

Contact first made at 11am, 12:36: Firefighters have said contact was first made with the six survivors an hour and a half ago. Efforts to extract them from the rubble have been more complex, however, with two helicopters at the scene and alpine rescuers digging through snow using spades.

Metres of snow, 12:33: This aerial view of the hotel, submerged in snow, shows the tough conditions rescuers have been working in. The hotel was moved ten metres by the force of the avalanche.


Photo: Vigili del Fuoco

First survivor taken to hospital, 12:29: A woman has already been pulled from the rubble and transported to hospital in nearby city Pescara, Rai News reports.

Roads closed in the area, 12:27: According to Repubblica daily, the road leading to Hotel Rigopiano has been closed to traffic to allow ambulances to reach the area. Rescuers at the scene have asked for food and blankets.

Young girl among survivors, 12:22: A child is among the six, a young girl, according to deputy Interior Minister Filippo Bubbico, who spoke to Rai radio.

What we know so far, via AFP: 

Firefighters have spoken to the survivors, who have been trapped under the rubble of the hotel for more than 40 hours, but have not been able to reach them yet.

Federica Chiavaroli, a junior minister at the Justice Ministry, confirmed the dramatic development to reporters in the nearby town of Penne, where the rescue effort was being coordinated and some relatives were anxiously awaiting news of missing loved ones.

"Six people have been found alive and they are being pulled out," the minister told AFP.

Helicopters are reportedly en route to the scene, with doctors and rescuers.

The news comes after a night of rescue efforts in extremely harsh conditions, during which firefighters said there were "no signs of life" in the area. 

More than 25 people, including children, were thought to have been in the hotel when it was hit by a massive wall of snow.

Updated estimates on Friday suggested the total could be as high as 34 - some 20 or 22 guests, seven or eight staff and an unknown number of casual visitors to the four-star, three-storey hotel, which also housed a pool and luxury spa.

Three bodies have been recovered from the area, according to Italian media reports.

AS IT HAPPENED: 'Three bodies' recovered, many more feared dead after Italy avalanche

"We're holding on to hope that there are survivors inside," Deputy Interior Minister Filippo Bubbico had told reporters on Thursday in the town of Penne, where a camp for rescue workers has been set up.

"Firefighters and alpine rescuers are working tirelessly and now the army is doing everything to improve access to the route," he said.

"The dogs often pick up scents but we have to dig for about 4.5 metres before reaching the ground," one alpine rescuer, Matteo Gasparini, told Ansa.

The region was hit by four seismic shocks measuring above five magnitude in the space of four hours on Wednesday. Quake experts said the tremors almost certainly triggered the snowslide.

The hotel's guests had been assembled on the ground floor awaiting an evacuation following the quakes that was delayed by snow-blocked roads when the avalanche struck.

Local officials confirmed two guests who were not inside when the avalanche struck had been rescued. They were suffering from hypothermia but not in any danger.

One of them, identified as Giampiero Parete, 38, was quoted by friends in Italian media as saying his wife and two children, aged six and eight, had been inside the hotel.

"We were ready to leave at 2 pm. We were in the foyer with our bags, we'd paid the bill and were waiting for a snow plough to clear the road," he later told reporters after treatment for hypothermia.

"They told us it would be there at 3pm. but for unexplained reasons that was put back to 7pm.

"My wife told me she had a headache so I went to the car to get some pills for her.

"As soon as I got out I felt this wind and then this deafening noise of trees cracking, trunks cascading down the hillside.

"Then the hotel collapsed under this enormous wave of snow and half the mountain. My car was the only thing that escaped, by a few centimetres."

The hotel's two resident sheepdogs, Lupo and Nuvola, also survived the disaster, it emerged on Friday morning. The dogs walked several kilometres through the snow before a resident of a nearby village gave them food and shelter.

Sadly however there is no news on the fate of the dogs' three puppies, which were born in December.

READ MORE: Guests share stories of Italy's mountain paradise hotel before the avalanche

Memories of Italy's mountain paradise hotel before the avalanche
Photo: Maurizio Cavaliere

 

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