Amatrice (Italy) (AFP) – Several children were among more than 25 people unaccounted for, feared dead, Thursday after an avalanche engulfed a mountain hotel in earthquake-ravaged central Italy.
The national civil protection agency said the Hotel Rigopiano had suffered a direct hit by a two-metre (six-feet) high wall of snow on Wednesday.
Emergency services were struggling to get ambulances and excavation equipment to the remote site with the first snow plough only arriving just before midday.
Italian broadcasters showed images of piles of masonry and rubble inside the hotel, which had been moved some ten metres from its original location by the force of the snow.
Local officials confirmed that one body had been recovered from the ruins and that two guests who were not inside when the avalanche struck had been saved.
Civil protection chief Fabrizio Curcio said there had been around 30 guests and staff at the small ski hotel on the eastern lower slopes of the Gran Sasso mountain when the first of four powerful tremors rattled the region on Wednesday morning.
Francesco Provolo, the head of the Pescara province where the disaster occurred, said there had been around 20 people staying at the hotel, including “several children” along with seven or eight staff.
Specialist mountain police who had reached the hotel on skis or by helicopter overnight had begun trying to move the rubble with spades.
They were quoted as saying there were no signs of life inside the building while one of their commanding officers told reporters: “There are many dead.”
Ambulances were blocked by two metres of snow in the nearest village, Farindola, some nine kilometres (5.5 miles) away, according to the civil protection agency.
Antonio Di Marco, president of Pescara province, said: “What is certain is that the building took a direct hit from the avalanche, to the point that it was moved by 10 metres.”
Farindola mayor Ilario Lacchetta described the “huge dimensions” of the snowslide. “It took the whole hotel with it,” he said.
– Hypothermia –
One of the two survivors was helicoptered to a hospital in Pescara suffering from hypothermia but was not in a life-threatening condition.
Rai television reported that one of them had told rescuers that his wife and child were trapped in the hotel.
The region was hit by four seismic shocks measuring above five magnitude in the space of four hours on Wednesday, when at least one person was confirmed to have died.
The hotel is located around 90 kilometres (55 miles) from the epicentre of the quakes at Montereale, a small village south of Amatrice, the town devastated in an August earthquake in which nearly 300 people died.
Avalanche warnings were issued across a region dominated by Gran Sasso, a majestic 2,912 metres (9,554 feet) peak. The area has numerous small ski resorts popular with day-trippers from Rome and urban centres on Italy’s east coast.
The one person confirmed dead Wednesday was a man found buried under the debris of a building in Castel Castagna, a small town to the north of Farindola.
The quake affected an area that straddles the regions of Lazio, Marche and Abruzzo which is home to many remote mountain hamlets.
Although many residents had been evacuated after last year’s quakes, there were fears for families who had decided to stay in their homes and are now cut off.
Guido Castelli, the mayor of the Marche town of Ascoli said his staff were trying to check on around 1,000 people in cut-off hamlets. “It is like Waiting for Godot,” he said.
Some 130,000 homes were without electricity overnight as a result of quake-damage to pylons and other infrastructure.
Schools in the affected region have been closed until next week to allow structural safety checks to be carried out. [/restrict]