‘It’s a miracle’: 10 survivors found after being buried by massive avalanche in Italy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 January, 2017, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 January, 2017, 1:12am

With cheers of joy, rescue crews pulled survivors Friday from the debris of an avalanche-crushed hotel in central Italy, an incredible discovery that boosted spirits two days after the massive snow slide buried around 30 people at the resort. Two children were among the 10 found alive.
 
The news was met with exhilaration since at least four people had already been found dead after the avalanche hit Wednesday afternoon and dumped up to 5 metres of snow on the luxury Hotel Rigopiano, 180 kilometers (112 miles) northeast of Rome.
 
First word of the discovery came at around 11 a.m. Video released by rescuers showed a boy, wearing blue snow pants and a matching ski shirt, emerging from the structure through a snow hole. Emergency crews mussed his hair in celebration.
 
“Bravo! Bravo!” they cheered.
 
Next came a woman with a long ponytail wearing red snow pants, appearing fully alert. Both were helped to a stretcher for the helicopter ride out.
 
“This first news has obviously repaid all the rescuers’ efforts,” said Italy’s deputy interior minister, Filippo Bubbico.
 
Firefighters clapped and cheered after they pulled a young boy wearing a blue sweatshirt from a hole that they had cut in the submerged roof with a power saw, a video showed.

A little later the boy’s mother was brought out. Both were strapped into stretchers so they could be flown to hospital by helicopter. Cari said they appeared to be in good condition.

“It’s a miracle,” said Senator Federica Chiavaroli, a deputy justice minister who was at the rescue staging area. “Rescuers have never given up hope and they never stopped believing. Now their hope has been reinvigorated.”

Officials said two bodies had been removed from the site, while Italian media said two more corpses had been located. The disaster struck during a driving snowstorm, hours after four earthquakes with a magnitude above 5 rattled the area.

As much as 5 metres of snow covered much of what was left of the hotel, said Walter Milan, a member of the Alpine Rescue service at the scene. Only sections of the spa and swimming area were intact, he said. Two men outside the hotel managed to escape the avalanche and raise the alarm.

An investigation into the tragedy has been opened by a court in Pescara amid accusations that the emergency response was slow. The first rescuers arrived amid a snow storm on skis early on Thursday morning, some 11 hours after the avalanche.

Giampiero Parete, a chef who was a guest in the hotel, had gone to his car to get headache pills for his wife when the avalanche struck. His wife and his eight-year-old son were amongst those saved on Friday, Italian media said. There was no word about the fate of his six-year-old daughter.

Parete called his boss, Quintino Marcella, just after the avalanche struck, asking him to call for help.

“He told me: ‘The hotel has collapsed’,” Marcella said in an interview with RAI state TV, adding that the local prefecture did not immediately believe him. He kept calling until he was assured help was on the way some two hours later.

 

The number of the survivors found and extracted from the rubble evolved over the course of the day.
 
Rescue crews said one group of survivors had been found in the hotel’s kitchen area, and had survived thanks to an air pocket that formed when reinforced cement walls partially resisted the avalanche’s violent power.
 
Those being rescued were in remarkably good condition and were being flown to area hospitals, rescue workers said.
 
The operation has been hampered by difficulty in accessing the remote hotel. Workers have been clearing a 7-kilometre (5.5-mile) road to bring in heavier equipment, but the mountain road can handle only one-way traffic and is covered not only by 10 feet of snow but fallen trees and rocks.
 
Days of heavy snowfall had knocked out electricity and phone lines in many central Italian towns and hamlets, and the hotel phones went down early Wednesday, just as the first of four powerful earthquakes struck.
 
An Alpine rescue team was the first to arrive at the hotel on cross-country skis after a 7-kilometer (more than 4-mile) journey that took two hours. 
 
The mountainous region of central Italy has been struck by a series of quakes since August that destroyed homes and historic centers in dozens of towns and hamlets. A deadly quake in August killed nearly 300 people. No one died in strong aftershocks in the region in October, largely because towns had already been evacuated.