Italy commemorates deadly Rigopiano avalanche

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Italy commemorates deadly Rigopiano avalanche

On January 18th Italy marks the second anniversary of a major avalanche in Pescara, Abruzzo which engulfed a luxury hotel and killed 29 people.


Today government ministers joined victims' relatives, local residents and representatives of the emergency services to commemorate the disaster, which was was the deadliest avalanche in Italy in almost a century.

The commemoration included prayers and poems, and flowers were laid outside the remains of the Hotel Rigopiano.

The avalanche hit the hotel as 40 guests and staff were inside, while the region was grappling with extreme weather conditions and the hotel was engulfed by snow.

Many of the victims had been gathered in the hotel lobby awaiting evacuation at the time of the disaster.

The building was ripped from its foundations and collapsed almost entirely.

Rescuers reached the site several hours after the incident, having had to travel on foot because roads had been blocked by heavy snow.

When the first rescuers arrived at the scene, they said that the hotel was "no longer there".

The victims included 18 hotel guests and 11 employees. Some victims were instantly crushed to death while others who remained trapped died of hypothermia and asphyxiation. Eleven people survived.

A further six people died in connection with the extreme weather in the area in January 2017 when an emergency services helicopter crashed. 

The helicopter crew included two of the rescuers who had helped in the Rigopiano search effort.

A rescue helicopter flies towards the hotel rubble in the aftermath of the disaster. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

There were 11 survivors, including two guests who were not inside the hotel when the avalanche hit: the hotel's maintenance man Fabio Salzetta and chef Giampiero Parete, who had left the building to get headache pills for his wife. 

After two days of rescue efforts in exceptionally harsh conditions, rescuers made contact with a group of six survivors in an air pocket. A mother and her young son were the first to be pulled to safety.

Soon after the tragedy, an investigation was opened by authorities which was only concluded in November 2018.

Charges are expected to be brought soon against some 25 people accused of being responsible for or contributing to the scale of the disaster.

In the meantime, one official who was plagued by guilt over the tragedy was driven to suicide. General Guido Conti of the now-disbanded State Forestry Corps was not being held directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of the victims, yet he reportedly felt he should have done more to help.

The charges brought against those notified are likely to include manslaughter and causing injury though negligence by failing to take adequate precautions to protect the hotel's residents.

One of the report's most damning conclusions is that the hotel should never have been issued with building permits allowing its construction in the first place; and that it should at the least have been closed during the winter, when the avalanche risk was at its highest.

A phone call from the hotel requesting help was initially dismissed by authorities as a hoax, delaying rescue efforts by hours.

Italian media reports that many of those accused of being responsible, including the woman who dismissed the calls as a hoax, have claimed not to remember vital information about the incident.

Video: This is Italy's avalanche hotel one week after the disaster


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