Rescue teams were engaged in a race against time on Thursday to reach dozens of people buried under a huge avalanche that hit a resort in quake-hit central Italy.
Up to 30 people, including some 22 guests, were registered in the hotel when the incident occurred on Wednesday evening, regional authorities said. Three bodies has so far been recovered from under the debris, according to Ansa news agency.
Chief of the Alpine Rescue Corp for the Abruzzo region, Antonio Crocetta, told local media that there might be “many dead.”
Sniffer dogs were brought in the area to help search activities. Yet, firefighters on the site said they have received no sign of life up to mid-afternoon, the Fire Corp said on its Twitter account.
The avalanche engulfed the Rigopiano hotel near the village of Farindola, and close to the Gran Sasso mountain in the Abruzzo region.
Rescuers struggled for hours to reach the location after two survivors were able to launch an SOS call. Heavy snow blocked all roads, and the first team was able to reach the facility by walking and skiing at 4:30 a.m. local time, while emergency vehicles were stopped some 9 km away, according to the Civil Protection Department.
At the moment, seven vehicles, 20 civil protection rescuers, and two emergency teams of the Alpine Squad were involved in the mission.
At least three children would be among those still missing, according to testimonies. One of the two survivors, a 38-year-old man, told aid workers that his wife and two children remained trapped inside the hotel, La Repubblica newspaper reported.
A 41-year-old police officer along with his wife and their seven-year-old child from the town of Osimo in the Ancona province were also among those missing, mayor Simone Pugnaloni confirmed on his Facebook account.
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni joined Civil Protection Department chief Fabrizio Curcio, and special commissioner for post-quake reconstruction in central Italy Vasco Errani, in an emergency meeting in Rieti.
The avalanche that crushed the luxury ski resort was in fact a consequence of four strong earthquakes that hit areas in the Abruzzo region in less than four hours on Wednesday.
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.
“It has been a difficult night, for both the severe weather emergency (in quake-hit areas), and the efforts required to reach the hotel crushed by the snowslide,” Civil Protection chief Curcio told a press conference after the meeting.
“Rescuers have been working in prohibitive conditions so far, succeeding to save two people, and are still struggling to get some emergency vehicles on the site,” he added.
Beside the three deaths and the people still missing in the ski resort incident, the Wednesday quakes so far claimed the life of an 83-year-old man who was killed by fallen roof near the city of Teramo. A 60-year-old man reportedly missing was found alive by the Italian financial police force, after a snowslide crushed his home and part of the village of Campotosto.
These same areas in central Italy had been struck by a series of deadly seismic events last year. Three major quakes occurred between Aug. 24 and Oct. 30, causing some 300 deaths and forcing thousands of people to live in tent cities or trailers. Enditem