Rescuers vowed to keep looking for survivors of a devastating avalanche that buried an Italian mountain hotel as they begin a second day of searching.
At least 25 people, including several children, were feared dead after a barrage of snow hit the Hotel Rigopiano on Wednesday afternoon, ripping the three-story building from its foundations and moving it 10m.
Rescue work continued on Thursday night, but the prospects of anyone being rescued alive looked bleak, with search efforts hampered by heavy snow that blocked access roads to the remote site until the early hours of the morning after the avalanche hit.
“We’re holding on to hope that there are survivors inside,” Italian Deputy Minister of the Interior Filippo Bubbico told reporters in the town of Penne, where a camp for rescue workers has been set up.
“Firefighters and alpine rescuers are working tirelessly and now the army is doing everything to improve access to the route,” he said.
Special army mountain rescue teams were seen riding in vehicles with caterpillar tracks.
“A small avalanche has created a wall of snow across the path to the hotel, we are heading up there now to knock it down,” Italian Army Major Nicola Cappozolo said. “As long as there is hope of finding survivors we’ll be there.”
Two bodies have been extracted from the rubble and two survivors were taken to hospital with hypothermia.
Italian broadcasters showed images of piles of masonry and rubble in the entrance area of what they dubbed a “coffin hotel.”
The region was hit by four seismic shocks measuring at least magnitude 5 in the space of four hours on Wednesday.
Seismologists said the tremors almost certainly triggered the snowslide.
The hotel’s guests had been assembled on the ground floor awaiting an evacuation following the quakes that was delayed by snow-blocked roads when the avalanche struck.
Local officials confirmed two guests who were not inside when the avalanche hit had been rescued.
One of them, identified as Giampiero Parete, 38, was quoted by friends in Italian media as saying his wife and two children, a girl aged six and a boy aged eight, had been inside the hotel.
Officials said there had been 20 to 22 guests staying, and seven or eight staff on duty at the hotel on the eastern lower slopes of the Gran Sasso mountain. It was unclear if there were any additional people in the hotel.
The hotel, a four-star establishment with its own spa and indoor pool, is at an altitude of 1,200m about 90km east of the epicentres of Wednesday’s earthquakes. They were also centered near Amatrice, the town devastated in a quake in August last year that claimed nearly 300 lives.
Although many residents were evacuated from their homes after last year’s quakes, there were fears for families who decided to stay and are now cut off.
Schools in the affected region have been closed until next week to allow structural safety checks to be carried out.
Since the Amatrice disaster, there have been nine shocks measuring more than magnitude 5 and a total of 47,000 registered aftershocks.
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