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Avalanche Buries Central Italy Hotel, 30 Missing

  • Associated Press

An aerial view shows Hotel Rigopiano in Farindola, central Italy, hit by an avalanche, in this handout picture provided by Italy's firefighters, Jan. 19, 2017.

An avalanche buried a four-star spa hotel in a mountainous earthquake-hit region of central Italy, leaving at least 30 people missing, authorities said Thursday.

Italian news reports say that some guests at a mountain hotel struck by an avalanche sent text messages to emergency numbers advising they were trapped inside.

“Help, we're dying of cold,” one couple wrote rescuers, according to the ANSA news agency.

In addition, someone who had managed to get out also texted authorities. The guest, identified by news reports as Fabio Salzetta, sent a SMS message saying he had escaped with a maintenance worker but that others were trapped inside.

Corriere della Sera quoted the text message as saying: “Some walls were knocked down.” And: “I'm outside with a maintenance worker but you can't see anything of the hotel, there's only a wall of snow in front of me.”

Television images show piles of snow and rubble cascading down the stairway into the foyer of the hotel struck by an avalanche.

Sky TG24 has broadcast the first images from rescue workers entering the hotel. The foyer appeared to be mostly clear of snow, but images showed a pile of debris-filled snow entering from a stairwell and in corridors. The audio was silent.

Italian authorities say that 30 people are missing after the avalanche in the central Abruzzo region.

The hotel is about 45 kilometers (30 miles) from the coastal city of Pescara. Earthquakes hit the region on Wednesday, including one with a 5.7 magnitude, but it wasn't immediately clear if the temblors triggered the avalanche.

Mountain rescue teams reached the hotel by skis around 4 a.m. (0300 GMT), SKY TG24 reported. An ambulance was blocked several kilometers from the hotel, according to SKY, which also said that snowfall was so heavy that snow plows have had trouble clearing the road to the hotel.

Firefighters vehicles make their way to the hotel hit by an avalanche in Farindola, Italy, Jan. 19, 2017.
Firefighters vehicles make their way to the hotel hit by an avalanche in Farindola, Italy, Jan. 19, 2017.

The mountainous region of central Italy has been struck by a series of quakes since August that destroyed historic centers in dozens of towns and hamlets. A deadly quake in August killed nearly 300, while no one died in the strong aftershocks in October largely because population centers had already been evacuated. In the meantime, the entire region has been hit by cold weather and buffeted by snowstorms, piling more suffering on to the hard-hit population.

People left homeless by the earlier quakes had been moved to hotels in the region, but it wasn't immediately clear who was staying at Hotel Rigopiano, which is located in the Gran Sasso National Park.

The hotel posted on its Facebook page Wednesday morning after the first quake that its telephone lines were out. In the hours since the report of the avalanche, users have been posting messages seeking information about the hotel.

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