Pleas for help from avalanche hotel were dismissed as a ‘hoax’

A phonecall asking for help from the Abruzzo hotel hit by an avalanche was dismissed by authorities as a hoax, delaying rescue efforts, Italian media reported on Monday.

Pleas for help from avalanche hotel were dismissed as a 'hoax'
A rescue helicopter flies towards the hotel rubble. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The hotel's manager, Bruno di Tommaso, first contacted local authorities to ask for help 11 hours before the deadly avalanche struck.

In an email sent at 7am on Thursday, he said the situation was “worrying” and that guests were “terrified” by the four major earthquakes which had hit the region.

Di Tommaso asked for help clearing the roads from the hotel to Farindola, the nearest town, in a message to provincial authorities in Pescara, local police and Farindola's mayor.  

“There are around two metres of snow and at the moment 12 rooms in our hotel are occupied (in addition to staff),” he wrote.

“We have done our best to calm [the guests], but they are unable to leave because of the blocked roads, and they are thinking of spending the night in their cars.”

He explained that phone lines in the area were down and that the streets were completely blocked by snow. The workers who were clearing the snow had also informed the province that the situation was difficult, a snowplough would be unable to reach them and they needed a snow-blower to clear the road.

The letter will be examined by public prosecutors who are investigating the avalanche.

At around 1pm, a snow-blower was located in Rieti, Il Fatto Quotidiano reported, but it would take several hours to reach the hotel in the l'Aquila region. 

More troubling still is the news that the first phonecalls alerting authorities to the snowslide were dismissed as a hoax.

Giampiero Parete, a survivor who was in his car at the time of the avalanche, first raised the alarm by contacting a friend via WhatsApp.

The friend, named as Quintino Marcella, contacted emergency services and the local Civil Protection Agency. However, as he first told press on Friday, they didn't take the news seriously. 

“At first they didn't believe me… the [emergency services] vehicles didn't set off until 8pm,” he told La Repubblica.

Italian daily Il Messaggero on Monday published a transcript of the first phonecall, which took place at 18:20 on Wednesday.

When Marcella explained that the hotel had collapsed with people inside, the woman on the other end of the line reportedly responded: “This story again? We've checked, we've spoken to the hotel, it's a hoax.”

Despite Marcella's insistence that authorities should send help to the hotel, the woman told him that Parete must be playing a joke on him.

It took just under an hour and a half before the first rescuers set off, after repeated calls from Marcella to different emergency services.

In fact, staff from the Pescara region had spoken to Di Tommaso – who was not at the hotel on Wednesday -shortly after 5:30pm. He said that he hadn't heard news of an avalanche, but hadn't heard from the hotel staff in recent hours, which may have been the reason for the confusion.

Rescuers have told how 120,000 tonnes of snow hit the hotel at 100km/h – a force equivalent to 4,000 articulated lorries. 

Six bodies have been recovered from the hotel wreckage as of Monday morning, with 23 still missing. 

Firefighters are still hoping to find further survivors, with Italy's Civil Protection head, Fabrizio Curcio, telling reporters: “There is still hope.”

Rescuers are working in extreme conditions, under heavy rain and snow, while the avalanche risk is at level 4 on a scale of one to five. 

So far, 11 survivors have been found, nine of whom have been pulled safely from the rubble. The number includes three children, who are all in good condition and will be dismissed from hospital today. 

One boy, however, lost both his parents in the avalanche.



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