Joy Erupts as Italian Rescuers Pull Out Avalanche Survivors

PAOLO SANTALUCIA, GREGORIO BORGIA, AP

FARINDOLA, Italy (AP) — 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 meters (16½ feet) 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.

About 30 people were trapped inside the hotel in the Gran Sasso mountain range when the avalanche hit Wednesday after days of winter storms that dumped up to 3 meters (nearly 10 feet) of snow in some places. The region was also rocked by four earthquakes on Wednesday but it was not clear if any of those set off the avalanche.

Two people initially survived the devastation and called out for help. One of them, Giampiero Parete, had called his boss and begged him to call in rescue crews because his wife and two children were inside.

The wife, Adriana Vranceanu, 43, and 8-year-old son Gianfilippo, were reunited later Friday with their father at the hospital in the nearby city of Pescara, ANSA news agency and state-run RAI radio said.

Rescue workers at the avalanche site were still hunting for their daughter, 6-year-old Ludovica, after her mother indicated she was still alive under the debris.

The number of the survivors found and extracted from the rubble evolved over the course of the day.

“We found five people alive. We’re pulling them out. Send us a helicopter!” a rescuer said Friday over firefighters’ radio, overheard by Associated Press journalists making their way on foot toward the disaster site.

Later, the number rose to eight people, including two children. Late in the day, firefighter spokesman Luca Cari said the number of survivors located was 10 but only a few had been extracted.

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.

“It’s probable that they realized the risk and took protective measures,” Romano said.

Those being rescued were in remarkably good condition and were being flown to area hospitals, rescue workers said.

Titi Postiglione, operations chief of the civil protection agency, also said survivors would be helping rescuers trying to find others trapped in the hotel.

“They can give us a series of indications to help with our intervention plan, information to understand what happened and help direct the search,” she said.

Search-and-rescue teams had maintained the hope of finding survivors even though the avalanche covered the hotel with up to 5 meters (16 1/2 feet) of snow.

Two bodies were recovered on the first day of searching and RAI state TV reported that two other bodies had been located but not yet removed.

The operation has been hampered by difficulty in accessing the remote hotel. Workers have been clearing a 7-kilometer (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.

The force of the massive snow slide collapsed one wing of the hotel and rotated another off its foundation, pushing it downhill.

Parete reported that the guests had all checked out and were waiting for the road to be cleared to be able to leave. But the snowplow scheduled for midafternoon never arrived and the avalanche hit around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Prosecutors have opened a manslaughter investigation into the tragedy and are looking into whether the avalanche threat was taken seriously enough, according to Italian media.

Farindola Mayor Ilario Lacchetta said the hotel had 24 guests, four of them children, and 12 employees onsite at the time of the avalanche.

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. They found Parete, a guest who escaped the avalanche when he went to his car to get something, and Fabio Salzetta, a hotel maintenance worker, in a car in the resort’s parking lot.

Parete was taken to a hospital while Salzetta stayed behind to help rescuers identify where guests might be buried and how crews could enter the buildings.

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.

___

Nicole Winfield in Rome, and Colleen Barry in Milan, contributed to this report.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

%d bloggers like this: