Desperate search on for survivors after avalanche hits Italian hotel

Penne, Italy (CNN)Rescuers were searching into the night Thursday for any survivors of an avalanche that killed at least two people and blasted a resort hotel in central Italy.

As night fell, as many as 30 people were thought to be still inside the wreckage of the Hotel Rigopiano, Italy’s Civil Protection Department said. Some could have survived in air pockets, officials said, although cold temperatures would endanger any survivors.
    The avalanche swallowed the four-star hotel, at the foot of the Gran Sasso mountain about (135 kilometers) 85 miles northeast of Rome, Wednesday night after a series of earthquakes in the region that day.
    Road crews had 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.

    Officials based estimates of the missing on guest registration and staff numbers, but said it was possible that some people had escaped before the avalanche hit.
    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, but rescuers using search dogs have otherwise seen no sign of life.
    “We are calling out but no one is answering,” a searcher told Italian state media ANSA.
    One 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 whereabouts of his wife and children remained unknown Thursday.
    Firefighters told ANSA the hotel had been “swept away” and buried by tons of snow, and that there were mostly uprooted trees and debris at the hotel site. Two bodies had been recovered more than 24 hours after the avalanche hit.
    An elderly farmer also died in the same region of Abruzzo on Wednesday when his barn collapsed

    Rescuers ski to disaster zone

    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.


    Rescue efforts ongoing

    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.
    Central Italy was rocked by more than 10 earthquakes Wednesday, four of them above magnitude 5, according to the US Geological Survey.
    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, sending people running from buildings in a panic.
    All the aftershocks hit around Amatrice, in the mountainous regions of Marche, Lazio and Abruzzo.
    Nearly 300 people died in the August earthquakes in central Italy around Amatrice, leaving its town center — once popular with tourists — reduced to rubble.


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