Italy avalanche: All known survivors pulled from rubble


This brings the number of survivors to 11. Four people have been found dead, and 20 others are still missing.

Hotel Rigopiano, a four-star hotel at the foot of the Gran Sasso mountain about 135 kilometers (85 miles) northeast of Rome, was buried in snow Wednesday afternoon after a series of earthquakes.

When the avalanche hit Wednesday, Gianpaolo Parete frantically called his friend Professor Quintino Marcella for help.

Marcella tells CNN that Parete told him: “The mountain came down. Everyone is trapped inside, I survived with another person.”

Marcella then called police, but he said his plea for help was “dismissed.” At the time of the incident, police told Marcella they spoke with the hotel’s manager hours earlier and “all was OK.”

Marcella refused to give up.

He called other authorities and asked his other friends to also call authorities — finally their call for help was acknowledged. But rescue teams arrived several hours later, Marcella told CNN.

Parete, who had been vacationing with his wife and two young children, missed being caught in the destruction only because he had walked to his car to get medicine for his wife just before the avalanche hit.

Marcella told CNN on Saturday that he has met with Parete and can confirm that the wife and children are among the survivors.

Working furiously to rescue people

From Thursday on, rescuers scrambled to find more survivors after the deadly avalanche swallowed the hotel, trapping dozens of people inside.

They heard a hopeful sound in the snow on Friday, after drilling a hole to punch through the roof of the destroyed hotel.

“Angels! Angels!” survivors called out when the rescuers first broke through.

In a highly emotional scene, crews pulled survivors from the avalanche site. They burst into cheers, yelling “Bravo!” as a young boy was lifted from a deep hole in the snow.

A rescue helicopter approaches the avalanche area in Rigopiano, central Italy, Friday.

The survivors were found “in an area of the hotel where there was an air pocket where they could breathe. They didn’t light up a fire, but the snow above and below them protected them and kept a steady temperature even during the night,” said Marco Bini from the Italian financial police’s alpine rescue team.

They showed signs of hypothermia, but none have life-threatening injuries, Bini said.

The hotel was in the process of being evacuated when the avalanche hit, officials said. Guests had settled their bills and were waiting together in the lobby with their luggage.

Snow and debris broke through windows or a thin wall into the Hotel Rigopiano.

The force of the avalanche was so great that the hotel building shifted 10 meters (11 yards) down the slope from its foundations, the Civil Protection Department said. Debris scattered as far as 100 meters (109 yards) from the hotel structure, according to the fire department.

So far, authorities have yet to give a definitive number for those missing. Officials based estimates of the missing on guest registration and staff numbers. The hotel has 43 rooms and spa facilities, according to website TripAdvisor.

All the guests are believed to have been locals who were taking advantage of discounted rates to stay in a normally pricey spa hotel before the peak February skiing season.

Renewed hope

Authorities still hope to find others who could have survived in the air pockets within the building.

“There is hope,” Bini said. “Because we found this air pocket, we believe there could be others so yes, we have hope to find others.”

The discovery of survivors has given new energy to the search and rescue teams, who are battling freezing conditions and failing light. They are having to work with their hands much of the time because of the treacherous conditions, Bini said.

The rescue workers are trying to get any information they can from the survivors, which might help to locate more people missing under the snow, he said.

Difficult access

Rescue efforts have been hindered by deep snow, combined with the earthquake and the possibility of more avalanches.

Italian rescuers prepare to join the operation near the village of Penne on Friday.

Access to the hotel had been difficult, but road crews cleared much of the snow and fallen trees by Thursday night, allowing heavy rescue equipment to reach the building.

Communication issues are also complicating efforts. Authorities are hoping to bring power back to as many as 90,000 people who were left in darkness overnight from the extreme weather.

Many people slept in shelters overnight Thursday to Friday despite the bitter cold and continuing snowfall because of the fear of more avalanches.

CNN’s Barbie Latza Nadeau and John Fiegener reported from Penne and CNN’s Azadeh Ansari wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark, Jennifer Deaton and Marilia Brocchetto contributed to this report.

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