Frantic search kept going overnight, and continued through Friday, to find dozens of people buried under an avalanche that occurred on Wednesday in Abruzzo, central Italy.

The avalanche crushed the Rigopiano hotel, a luxury ski resort lying between the village of Farindola and the 2,912-meter-tall Gran Sasso peak.

Up to 30 people are missing, including 22 guests and seven employees of the resort, according to local authorities. Among them, there were at least three children of six, seven, and nine years.

Two guests were outside the hotel, when the huge snowslide occurred, and survived. They were able to launch the SOS call soon after. One of them was treated for hypothermia, but was not in health-threatening conditions.

Rescue teams said they would not give up hopes of finding more survivors under the mass of snow, mud, and rubble the hotel has become. Despite the sniffer dogs involved in the research, however, no signs of life were detected so far. Aid teams were working in a hazardous environment.

“We have been digging since last night in difficult conditions,” an official with the Alpine Corp of the Italian army leading the search told Ansa news agency.

“Dogs often sniff some traces, but we have over four to five meters to dig before reaching the ground,” the rescuer explained. The official death toll remains two, the Civil Protection agency coordinating all rescue efforts said on Thursday night.

Yet, some Italian media were putting the figure at between four and six, reporting that more bodies were detected and not yet recovered. The reports have not been confirmed officially.

The avalanche occurred in the late afternoon of Wednesday, and was almost certainly triggered by four powerful earthquakes that struck the Abruzzo region on Wednesday morning.

All four events measured a magnitude above 5 on the Richter scale, according to Italy’s National Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (INGV). The epicenters of the temblors were registered between the provinces of Rieti and L’Aquila.

The series of quakes are actually longer, considering that separate clusters of temblors have haunted Italy’s central regions since a major 6.0-magnitude event on Aug. 24 last year.

Severe weather conditions and heavy snowfalls in the area of the Rigopiano hotel have hampered rescue activities, slowing down the arrival of emergency vehicles and forcing first rescuers to reach to site by walking and skiing at 4:30 a.m. local time on Thursday.

In a short press conference on Thursday, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni stressed that central Italy was caught in an “unprecedented claw of snowy weather and earthquakes.”

Some 7,000 forces were overall engaged in the emergency operation in quake-hit areas, according to Civil Protection official Titti Postiglione. Enditem

Source: Alessandra Cardone, Xinhua/

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