Italy avalanche: Dozens missing under snow and rubble

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Rescuers have removed three bodies from a hotel engulfed by an avalanche in central Italy as a desperate search for up to 35 other people continues.
Heavy snow and disruption caused by multiple earthquakes have hindered rescue efforts in the rubble of the Rigopiano hotel, in the Abruzzo region. Rescuers say they have heard nothing in the rubble while sniffer dogs are reportedly unable to locate victims. Two people who were outside the hotel at the time of the avalanche survived.
Four earthquakes above magnitude 5 rocked central Italy on Wednesday, with tremors continuing into the night. The quakes compounded problems resulting from snow and freezing weather, with power lines brought down and villages temporarily cut off.
Rescue operations are under way across central Italy and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said the EU is ready to help. “Heartfelt condolences to those who lost loved ones in #Italy,” he wrote in a tweet, in English and Italian. “Europe is ready to help. Siamo tutti vicini all’Italia [We are all Italy’s neighbours].”
It appears the guests had gathered on the ground floor of the four-star spa hotel, close to the Gran Sasso mountain, to await evacuation following the earthquakes. Twenty guests and seven staff were registered as being at the hotel, among them children, but rescuers say the actual number could be 35. When the avalanche struck, it partially brought down the roof and, according to some reports, shifted the building 10m (11 yards) off its foundations.
A guest who was outside the building at the time raised the alarm by phone at 17:40 local time (16:40 GMT). Giampiero Parete, whose wife and two children are missing, said he had gone to get something from his car: “I was covered by the snow but I managed to get out. The car was not submerged and I waited for the rescuers to arrive.”
A couple was quoted as telling rescuers in a message, “Help, we’re dying of cold.” Mr Parete, who was taken to hospital with a fellow survivor, continued to make phone calls but it reportedly took until 20:00 before his pleas were acted on by the authorities.
“The hotel is almost completely destroyed,” Antonio Crocetta, a member of the Alpine rescue squad who was at the scene, told Reuters news agency by phone. “We’ve called out but we’ve heard no replies, no voices. We’re digging and looking for people.”
Twenty guests and seven staff were registered as being at the hotel, among them children, but rescuers say the actual number could be 35. When the avalanche struck, it partially brought down the roof and, according to some reports, shifted the building 10m (11 yards) off its foundations.
A guest who was outside the building at the time raised the alarm by phone at 17:40 local time (16:40 GMT). Giampiero Parete, whose wife and two children are missing, said he had gone to get something from his car: “I was covered by the snow but I managed to get out. The car was not submerged and I waited for the rescuers to arrive.”
A couple was quoted as telling rescuers in a message, “Help, we’re dying of cold.” Mr Parete, who was taken to hospital with a fellow survivor, continued to make phone calls but it reportedly took until 20:00 before his pleas were acted on by the authorities.—AFP

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