WASHINGTON - Emergency crews pulled out four more survivors from the rubble of a hotel crushed by an avalanche and were searching Saturday for more as family members awaited word if their relatives were among the lucky ones to get out.
The overnight operations to bring four more survivors to the hospital raised to at least nine the number of people found alive in the rubble of Wednesday's avalanche. Some 30 people were inside the Hotel Rigopiano in central Italy's snow-covered Gran Sasso mountain range at the time of the snow slide.
Two other people escaped the devastation just before the avalanche struck, including Giampiero Parete, a chef vacationing with his family who first sounded the alarm by calling his boss. He was reunited with his wife and two children Saturday after they were among the first to be located and extracted from the debris.
"Thank you everyone from my heart,'' Parete wrote on Facebook. "Big hugs.''
Firefighter spokesman Alberto Maiolo said four bodies had been found in the rubble, in addition to the four people pulled out alive overnight.
"We are still working, we are verifying the signals we have and continuing our activities to verify if there are other people and when we will be able to pull them out,'' Maiolo said Saturday morning.
There was some confusion about the number of people rescued; Maiolo earlier spoke of 11 in all.
The avalanche dumped 5 meters of snow on top of the resort, located 180 kilometers northeast of Rome. The region, which has been blanketed by heavy snowfall, was also rocked by four strong earthquakes on Wednesday, though it wasn't clear if they set off the avalanches.
Prosecutors have opened a manslaughter investigation and were looking into whether the avalanche threat was taken seriously enough, and whether the hotel should have been evacuated earlier given the heavy snowfall and forecasts.
"That hotel... should it have been open?'' prosecutor Christina Tedeschini was quoted by the ANSA news agency as saying. "If the people wanted to leave, what prevented them from doing so?''
Parete, the survivor who sounded the alarm, said the guests had all checked out and were waiting for the road to be cleared so they could evacuate. But the snowplow never arrived and the avalanche hit around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.