Children saved in Italy avalanche hotel 'miracle'

A woman is helped after being rescued from the hotel in Rigopiano, central Italy, that was hit by an avalanche. (ANSA via AP)
A woman is helped after being rescued from the hotel in Rigopiano, central Italy, that was hit by an avalanche. (ANSA via AP)

Penne - A woman and four children were pulled on Friday from the ruins of an Italian hotel and five other survivors were found, two days after the building was buried under an avalanche.

The rescues mean all four children known to have been in the Rigopiano Hotel when it was hit by a wall of snow on Wednesday have been saved.

It also means that an entire family of four survived the disaster in extraordinary circumstances.

Giampiero Parete had feared the worse after he avoided being swamped by the avalanche because he had gone to the family car to get his wife's headache tablets.

His wife Adriana and their son Gianfilipo, 7, were found on Friday morning and guided to safety.

As she was lifted out of a tunnel in the snow, the mother could be heard mouthing "my daughter, my daughter". But her despair was short-lived. Just after nightfall it was announced 6-year-old Ludovica had also been rescued.

The news was widely hailed as little short of miraculous.

It came at the end of a day of painstaking efforts to find signs of life amid the snow-covered remains of the three-storey spa hotel located on the eastern lower slopes of Monte Gran Sasso, the highest peak in central Italy

Another five survivors were still under the rubble with at least one of them injured.

With Parete and one other survivor having been found on Thursday and two bodies recovered so far, there were at least 13 people unaccounted for.

Adriana and Gianfilipo were among a group of six people found in an air pocket on Friday morning.

Igloo effect 

Marco Bini, one of the officers who reached them, said the rescue team had been alerted to their possible location when they detected smoke from fires the group had lit to keep warm

"They were all in reasonable health, if very cold," he said. "The fire will have been using up the oxygen so we were lucky to find them.

"Their faces said it all, it was like they had been reborn."

A video released by firefighters showed the Parete's son emerging from a snow tunnel into the daylight to cheers and friendly hair ruffles from firemen.

Bini said the rescue had raised hopes others would be found in similar air pockets.

"The snow will have prevented anyone inside from getting too cold, it isolates like an igloo," he said.

At least 25 people were thought to have been in the hotel when it was hit by a massive wall of snow, although the total could have been as high as 34.

Deafening cracks 

Most of the guests were waiting to leave when the avalanche struck late on Wednesday afternoon.

They had decided to leave after earthquakes in the region earlier in the day, but the heavy snow blocked roads and delayed their transport.

Scores of mountain police, firefighters and other emergency personnel were deployed at the hotel on Friday.

Progress was agonisingly slow, with rescuers wary of triggering further movements in the snow piled up on top of the masonry.

The first rescuers to reach the hotel trekked for more than eight kilometres through two-metre-high snow to get there around 04:00 on Thursday.

They got there just in time to prevent Parete and fellow survivor Fabio Salzetta from succumbing to hypothermia.

Parete said he and his family had been among guests who wanted to leave hours before the avalanche.

"We'd paid the bill and were waiting for a snowplough to clear the road," he said.

"My wife told me she had a headache so I went to the car to get some pills for her.

"As soon as I got out I felt this wind and then this deafening noise of trees cracking, trunks cascading down the hillside.

"Then the hotel collapsed under this enormous wave of snow and half the mountain. My car was the only thing that escaped, by a few centimetres."

The national civil protection agency said four people had died as a result of the quake, not counting the victims at the hotel.

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