Stories of anguish and luck from a week of tragedies in central Italy

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Stories of anguish and luck from a week of tragedies in central Italy
The first survivors are pulled from the rubble. Photo: Vigili del Fuoco

In the anxious days since an avalanche engulfed the Hotel Rigopiano in Italy on January 18th, wrenching scenes and heart-stirring strokes of luck have riveted the country.


The search efforts finally finished on Wednesday night, with all bodies recovered and the final death toll at 29.

Braving the storm

Central Italy was the scene of chaos after the region was struck by record snowfall and four magnitude five earthquakes in the space of four hours on January 18th.

About three hours later, an avalanche slammed into the Rigopiano on the eastern slopes of Monte Gran Sasso.

Alpine rescue crews are mobilized in nearby Farindola at around 7:00 pm - almost two hours after the first call to emergency services - but the winding eight-kilometre (five-mile) road to the resort is blocked by about two meters (6.5 feet) of snow.

READ MORE: Pleas for help from avalanche hotel were dismissed as a 'hoax'

Pushing through the falling snow on skis, the first rescuers arrive at about 4:00 am, only to find complete devastation: One rescuer says the hotel, buried by an avalanche that hit with the force of 4,000 trucks, "no longer exists".

On January 19th, a snowplow is finally able to clear the road to the site.

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

The buried resort. Photo: Vigili del Fuoco

A family spared

Giampiero Parete, 38, leaves to get some pills for his wife from the car and sees the hotel collapse under an "enormous wave of snow and half the mountain."

Left inside are his wife, Adriana, and two children; Gianfilippo, 7, and Ludovica, 6. After trying in vain to dig into the hotel, he returns to his car to wait with a hotel employee who also survived.

Hospitalized with mild hypothermia about 50 kilometres away in Pescara, Parete loses hope of ever seeing his family again.

But on the morning of January 20th, Adriana and Gianfilippo are pulled unharmed from the rubble. Ludovica, trapped in a nearby room, is rescued a few hours later.

IN VIDEOS: How Italian rescuers reached avalanche survivors

'Sang them songs'

When the avalanche struck, Ludovica was playing in the hotel's games room with two other children, Edoardo Di Carlo, 9, and Samuel Di Michelangelo, 7.

According to psychologists quoted in Italian daily La Repubblica, Edoardo held the two other children during the 48-hour ordeal, singing them songs or parts of Frozen, Ludovica's favourite cartoon.

Finding them boosted the hopes of the rescue workers, who had found only bodies in the aftermath of recent earthquakes throughout Italy.

"For us, these angels outweigh all the deaths," one worker said.

At hospital, Edoardo learned that his parents had died in the hotel. But the boy, who will now be taken care of by his older brothers, aged 17 and 19, asked if he could stay in the hospital with Samuel, whose parents are still missing.

On Tuesday, the two boys, fans of Juventus football club, got a call from Paulo Dybala, the team's Argentine striker, who invited them to visit in Turin.

Fallen heroes

On Tuesday, a helicopter is sent to rescue a skier who had broken two bones in his leg at Campo Felice ski resort 120 kilometres east of Rome, close to the region struck by the quakes and avalanche.

But the helicopter crashes, killing all six onboard, including two members of the emergency team at the Hotel Rigopiano: Walter Bucci, 57, a doctor, and Davide De Carolis, 40, a rescue worker.

Avalanche rescuers mourn six colleagues who died in helicopter crash
Photo: AFP

Writing on Facebook, fellow rescuer and friend Roby De Paolis recalled how in the days leading up to the crash, he had worked with De Carolis on a team that dug through the night to follow the voice of a trapped survivor at the avalanche hotel.

"After seven hours of frantic efforts, we got him out, to the applause of all."

By Fanny Carrier



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