Rescuers search for survivors in buried hotel
Conditions are still perilous. Searchers had to suspend operations at about 2 a.m. local time due to fears of avalanche and continued aftershocks.
Rescue operations began at first light, hoping for a miraculous survival story.
Civil Protection services said that the hotel was in the process of being evacuated due to the earthquake when the avalanche hit.
Officials based estimates of the missing on guest registration and staff numbers. The hotel has 43 rooms, according to website TripAdvisor.
Italian fire department spokesman Luca Cari, who was at the scene, told CNN that the hotel had been “completely slammed” in the avalanche and debris was scattered as far as 100 meters from the hotel structure, making the search area large.
Two people were rescued from the site of the hotel, Civil Protection Department chief Fabrizio Curcio told journalists.
One of them was a man vacationing with his wife and two children, 6 and 8, said he missed being caught in the destruction only because he had walked to his car just before the avalanche hit.
“The avalanche came down and I was buried in snow, but I managed to get out. The car was not buried so I waited there for the rescuers to come,” Giampiero Parete was reported to have said.
The whereabouts of his wife and children were unknown Thursday.
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said the country hadn’t seen this much snowfall in decades.
The deep snow combined with the earthquake created a perfect storm of sorts, exacerbating the aftermath of the temblor.
“For the weather, you tell people to stay in their homes, while for the earthquake, citizens must be brought outside. Putting together these two elements is extremely complicated,” Curcio said.
Access to the hotel been difficult, but road crews cleared much of the snow and fallen trees by nighttime Thursday, finally allowing heavy rescue equipment to reach the hotel.
Snow machines and helicopters had earlier taken searchers, including dogs, up the mountain.
Rescuers battled blizzards and strong winds to reach the site, some having to ski for several kilometers in the darkness to get there because some roads were impassable.
When they arrived, they found only the building’s top story and roof visible above the snow, Italy’s Mountain Rescue Service said on social media. It also posted a picture of rescuers digging for survivors.
Video recorded by rescue teams showed what appears to be a smashed wall or window in the hotel’s lobby, with tree branches, snow and other debris piled on the floor.
The heavy snowfall in the 24 hour-period after the quake means that the risk of more avalanches is still high high, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.
Rescue efforts ongoing
Central Italy was rocked by more than 10 earthquakes Wednesday, four of them above magnitude 5, according to the US Geological Survey.
Rescuers were still trying to get to other areas isolated by the avalanche, Gentiloni said, and authorities were hoping to bring power back to as many as 90,000 people who were left in darkness overnight from the extreme weather.
An initial 5.3-magnitude quake hit in the morning near the town of of Amatrice, which was devastated by powerful earthquakes in August. The tremors continued for more than six hours, with one as strong as magnitude 5.7.
While the epicenter was 90 kilometers (about 55 miles) northeast of Rome, the quake was felt in the capital.
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