Avalanche in Italy buries hotel, leaving up to 30 missing

Some report no signs of survivors
An aerial view of Hotel Rigopiano after an avalanche in Farindola, Italy, on Jan. 19, 2017.
An aerial view of Hotel Rigopiano after an avalanche in Farindola, Italy, on Jan. 19, 2017.

ROME — As many as 30 people were missing after an avalanche barreled into a mountainside hotel in central Italy, civil protection officials said Thursday, a day after four earthquakes struck the region, which has been hit hard in recent months.

The latest seismic activity, which prompted officials to close schools and the subway system in Rome as a precaution, shifted the nation’s attention back to areas in central Italy that were devastated by a series of temblors last year, leading to criticism that victims had been left to fend for themselves.

Fabrizio Curcio, the chief of the civil protection department, told RAI News that search-and-rescue teams had reached the hotel but that the situation there presented an enormous challenge.

Rescue workers, including dog units, were moving with caution, he said, and some emergency-response teams reported no signs of survivors.

News channels in Italy showed images of the roof collapsed on the hotel, the Rigopiano, and before-and-after photographs suggesting that much of the structure had been buried by the avalanche.

Other images showed corridors piled high with snow, leaves and branches and rescue workers digging through the snow and carrying at least one person to safety.

Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said the rescue effort presented officials with “unprecedented” difficulties, describing the area as caught in a vise after intense snowfall “that hadn’t been recorded for decades” and the strong earthquakes in the area Wednesday.

The epicenters of the four earthquakes were in central Italy, which has been hit by deadly quakes with increasing frequency in recent years. Officials registered more than 100 aftershocks Wednesday.

Sky TG24 television said that at least three people had died at the Rigopiano, which is described on its website as a “posh mountainside hotel resort with spa” in the town of Farindola, nestled in the mountains.

There were fears that the death toll would rise significantly. In a message on social media, the Fire Department, which is involved in rescue efforts, said firefighters had arrived at the hotel but “at the moment, no signals from the missing.”

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