Emergency crews were cheered today by the discovery of three puppies who had survived for days under tonnes of snow – giving them new hope for the 23 people still missing in the Italian avalanche disaster.
The white Abruzzo sheepdogs, born in December, were trapped inside Hotel Rigopiano, which was pulverised by 60-000 tonnes of snow on Wednesday.
Firefighters said today that their discovery showed conditions under the snow, ice and rubble could still support life.
The puppies are understood to have been born in December in the hotel to Lupo and Nuvola, who ran off when the avalanche hit. They were also found the following day in a village nearby.
It comes as the first human survivors were released from hospital today as questions intensified into whether Italian authorities underestimated the risks facing the snowbound resort in the hours before a deadly avalanche.
Emergency crews were cheered today by the discovery of three puppies who had survived for days under tons of snow – giving them new hope for missing guests
Firefighter spokesman Fabio German said the discovery signals that there are still chances of finding some of the 23 people still buried under the snow alive
Desperate pleas for help from a hotel hit by a deadly avalanche in Italy were initially dismissed as a hoax by emergency call handlers, it has been claimed. Rescuers are pictured at the scene
Pictures show the scale of the avalanche and how it ripped down trees before thundering into the hotel
Five days after up to 60,000 tons of snow, rocks and uprooted trees ploughed into the Hotel Rigopiano in central Italy, rescue crews were still digging by hand or with shovels and chainsaws in hopes of finding alive some of the 23 people still buried.
An excavator reached the site, north east of Rome, to speed up the search.
Earlier, it was claimed that desperate pleas for help from a hotel hit by a deadly avalanche in Italy were initially dismissed as a hoax by emergency call handlers.
Staff operating the hotlines allegedly did not take seriously early telephone calls reporting the disaster in Gran Sasso national park on Wednesday.
As a result, the rescue operation only got into gear some 2.5 hours later, with the first rescue team arriving by ski 11 hours after the catastrophe because the roads were impassable.
Rescue crews say they have found three puppies alive in the rubble of an Italian mountain hotel slammed by an avalanche
A firefighter passes through an opening in the snow during the rescue operation at the Hotel Rigopiano today
‘The operator did not believe me,’ said restaurant owner Quintino Marcella, who had called for help after one of his employees telephoned from the obliterated hotel.
Italian media said the emergency services had contacted the hotel’s owner to see if he could confirm the avalanche. He reportedly said he knew nothing about it, but the operators were apparently unaware that he was not actually there.
An investigation is underway to examine the response in the wake of the disaster as rescuers continue a ‘fight against time’ to find survivors.
So far six bodies have been discovered while 23 people are missing and nine have been found alive. But emergency crews were cheered today by the discovery of three puppies who had survived for days under tons of snow – giving them new hope for missing guests.
Italian media also published an email sent by the hotel manager on January 18 to an array of local authorities, urging help to clear the access roads to enable the guests to escape after a series of powerful earthquakes had rattled the region.
‘The clients have been terrorised by the tremors,’ said the email. However, no help came before the avalanche struck, with local authorities saying that their most powerful snow plough had broken down and they did not have the money to repair it.
Edoardo Di Carlo had been in a games room when a wall of snow smashed into Hotel Rigopiano at the foot of a mountain chain in the central Italian region of Abruzzo on Wednesday. He is pictured being rescued on Friday
As the ten-year-old was lifted from the ruins of the building 48 hours later, he is said to have marvelled at the huge snowfall in the area, telling rescuers: ‘Wow look at all the snow. Can we got skiing?’
Simona Di Carlo, the aunt of Edoardo Di Carlo, one of three children pulled out from the avalanche-hit hotel Rigopiano, arrives at the hospital in Pescara, Italy, on Saturday
‘The snow plough had been in for repairs for months’, said Luigi Di Maio, a leading light in the opposition 5-Star Movement, who accused the government of depriving local provinces of vital funds.
It comes after it emerged that a boy pulled alive from the avalanche-hit hotel in Italy asked his rescuers whether he could go skiing – only to find out both his parents had been killed.
Edoardo Di Carlo had been in a games room when a wall of snow smashed into Hotel Rigopiano at the foot of a mountain chain in the central Italian region of Abruzzo.
As he was lifted from the ruins of the building 48 hours later, he is said to have marvelled at the huge snowfall in the area, telling rescuers: ‘Wow look at all the snow. Can we got skiing?’
But as he was being transferred to hospital, he was heard asking: ‘Where are mum and dad’. Officials later confirmed his parents Sebastiano Di Carlo and Nadia Acconciamessa were among those killed, according to The Daily Telegraph.
A second child, seven-year-old Samuel Si Michelangelo, was also pulled alive from the avalanche site having been in the same games room. His parents Domenico Di Mechelangelo and Marina Serraiocco were still missing last night.
Samuel and Edoardo were among four children and five adults rescued so far following Wednesday’s avalanche. Rescuers say they are in a ‘fight against time’ to find more survivors.
This morning, rescue crews were considering whether to start using heavy equipment to speed up the search for 23 people still buried under the ruins.
Rescue bid: Emergency crews are still at the scene as they attempt to find more survivors
Rescuers worked into the night as they dug through thick snow and ice from the avalanche
The full extent of the devastating avalanche became clear as snow melted away to reveal the building
Firefighter spokesman Luca Cari said emergency crews were working with an ‘operational hypothesis’ that the tons of snow that plowed into the Hotel Rigopiano on January 18 might not have reached all parts of the structure, and that there might still be survivors underneath.
But five days after the devastating snow slide, Cari said Monday that ‘we are fighting against time.’
He said: ‘We know we need to work fast, but in relation to an environment that doesn’t allow for fast intervention.’
Meanwhile, questions are intensifying into whether the local government underestimated the threat facing the isolated hotel.
Yesterday rescue workers found the dead body of a man in the wreckage.
‘At Hotel Rigopiano, at 1645 CET, the fire brigade located the dead body of one of the missing people,’ the fire service said in a Tweet.
A woman is seen being pulled to safety by rescue workers on Friday, two days after an avalanche destroyed the hotel
Rescue teams have continued to work night and day since Thursday trying to rescue people from the hotel
The death toll stands at six, with 23 people still missing, Paolo Molinari from the Civil Protection agency said.
The luxury Hotel Rigopiano, located at the foot of a mountain chain in the central Italian region of Abruzzo, was hit on Wednesday by an avalanche caused by an earthquake.
An earlier statement from the national fire service said the number of people missing had risen to 24 after a rescued person said that a hotel employee, of Senegalese origin, was inside the building at the moment of the avalanche.
‘Operations continue, both inside and outside the hotel, there is no change in the numbers (of saved and dead people),’ fire brigade spokesman Luca Cari said later.
An official from the national protection agency told reporters that efforts were being made to find alternative routes into the hotel.
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said on Sunday his government would work to find ways to give the national bodies involved in emergency and reconstruction operations more power.
Rescuers have not given hope that more survivors could be pulled out as they believe there are still air pockets
Italian rescue workers pull a young boy out of the snow. Rescue officer Marco Bini said: ‘The snow insulated them and protected them from the freezing temperatures outside. It was like being in an igloo’
‘We must be faster, and to do so we have to give more effective powers,’ he said in an interview on state television RAI, adding that these operations could not be dragged down by bureaucracy. He said the government had to find a way to fight against delays and corruption.
Survivors said they ate snow, some dirty, to quench their thirst as they spent days in the dark, trapped in narrow corners of the hotel’s rooms after walls and ceilings had collapsed.
Nine of the 11 survivors are still hospitalised in the nearby city of Pescara, with some of them expected to leave hospital as soon as Monday.
Some rescue workers said they did not rule out finding more survivors, almost four days after the disaster.
Four children were rescued on Friday, dug out from under tonnes of snow and debris in the remote valley in the Italian Alps
A girl carried to safety by rescue workers on Friday. A total of four children have been pulled out of the hotel
Pictures have emerged of the moment a young girl in a pink jumper was pulled from the rubble by a smiling rescue worker
Emanuele Cherubini, a helicopter paramedic, told Reuters that the hotel ‘is full of places to shelter in … so if someone had the good fortune to find one of those places with an air pocket…’
He said saving three children was a very moving experience.
Major Marco Amoriello said rescue efforts were continuing, despite the difficult weather conditions and forecasts which were ‘not looking good’.
‘We certainly won’t be stopping because of that,’ Amoriello said.
Around 120,000 tonnes of snow, the equivalent of about 4,000 lorries, covered much of what was left of the hotel, a rescue official told Sky TG24 TV.
‘Thank you for being close, and for the real help you are bringing,’ said Pope Francis on Sunday at his weekly Angelus audience, referring to those involved in the rescue and relief operations and asking people to pray for them and the families of the victims.
Towns in the snowbound region of Abruzzo, one of the areas devastated by the deadly earth tremors of recent months, are now suffering from the poor weather, with thousands of people still without electricity and phone connections.