Italy avalanche toll hits 24 as search nears end

An aerial view of the Rigopiano Hotel hit by an avalanche in Farindola, Italy. (Italian Firefighters via AP)
An aerial view of the Rigopiano Hotel hit by an avalanche in Farindola, Italy. (Italian Firefighters via AP)

Rome - The number of bodies recovered from the ruins of an Italian hotel buried by an avalanche rose to 24 on Wednesday, local authorities said.

Another five people were still unaccounted for, presumed dead, as a result of the January 18 disaster, which saw the Hotel Rigopiano ripped from its foundations by the force of a wall of tree and mud-packed snow hurtling down the hillside into which it was built.

Eleven people, including all four children at the hotel at the time, survived.

The deadly avalanche followed the heaviest snowfall seen in the mountains of central Italy in decades and may have been triggered by a series of powerful earthquakes which rocked the region earlier the same day.

The combination of the extreme weather and the quakes has claimed at least 11 lives unrelated to the hotel disaster.

Six of them came in a helicopter crash at the Campo Felice ski resort on Tuesday.

Rescuers have vowed to continue combing through the wreckage of the Rigopiano but sub-zero overnight temperatures meant there was little hope of finding anyone else alive on what was the seventh day of the rescue effort.

The last survivors extracted from the rubble were pulled out on Saturday after having been located on Friday morning. They were all suffering from mild hypothermia.

A prosecutor is examining whether the disaster could have been avoided with better risk-assessment procedures.

But Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has warned against launching a hunt for scapegoats to assuage the grief of those who have lost loved ones.

"Every possible effort was made to reach the hotel," Gentiloni told parliament on Wednesday.

"We are proud of the emergency services who were confronted with absolutely exceptional snowfalls and two of whom gave their lives," he added, in a reference to two mountain rescuers who died in the helicopter crash.

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