Earthquake and snow proves deadly
The Short Version
30 people are missing and most presumed dead after earthquakes and heavy snowfall resulted in an avalanche that buried Hotel Rigopiano in the mountainous region of central Italy. Rescue crews had to dig their way through several feet of snow just to get to the remote spa location. Initial calls to survivors have yielded nothing but silence and the entire situation looks quite grim.
4:54:59 PM EST 4:55:16 PM: 10 people have been rescued as efforts continue on into the night. Four bodies have also been removed from the snow. At least 20 others are still missing. Some reports say the guests had gathered in the lobby, awaiting evacuation from the earthquakes, when the avalanche hit. The force of the snow not only broke through walls but shifted the entire building some eleven yards or more off its foundation. There is still considerable criticism being directed toward an official who refused to believe the initial report of the avalanche and waited several hours before sending out rescue crews. A survivor said all the guests had checked out and were waiting for transportation that had been delayed because of blocked roads. Prosecutor Christina Tedeschini has opened a manslaughter investigation to determine whether the disaster could have been avoided.
05:04:56 AM EST 01/20/2017: Rescuers continued working through the night as hopes of finding any survivors dims. Two bodies have been found and two more have been located but not recovered. Rescuers are going slowly amidst fears that as snow is removed weak walls could cause the snow to fall in on top of them. Snow continues to fall, further hampering the ability of rescuers and big equipment trying to get to the hotel. An investigation has begun as to why it took 11 hours before anyone got to the site of the avalanche. Power continues to be out at most homes in the area and most roads are impassable.
12:02:18 PM EST: The only rescuers who have gotten through have been on skis, which limits the amount of rescue work they are able to do. Heavy equipment is struggling to get through all the snow. One survivor reports that it took two hours of calling immediately after the avalanche before anyone believed that anything bad had even happened. One person trapped in the hotel was able to get out a message that said, “Help, we’re freezing to death,” but the message did not say where in the resort the person was located. As darkness descends upon the region, there is still no power to the area, making it difficult to utilize even the most basic of rescue efforts.
A Little Background
The Hotel Rigopiano is a very popular spa destination nestled in the remote mountains of Italy’s Abruzzo region in the central part of the country and located in the Gran Sasso National Park. The hotel caters primarily to foreign tourists and provides a multi-lingual staff to accommodate guests in their native language. One of the attractive features of the hotel is its remote location, well away from the noise of any other tourist destinations.
Earthquakes. Four tremors hit central Italy yesterday, ranging from 5.3 to 5.7 on the Richter scale. Seismologists registered more than 100 aftershocks as the effect was felt throughout the mountains. This came on top of more than three feet of snow that had already isolated much of the region, making travel difficult. The hotel’s website on Wednesday morning advised using snow chains to get to the resort. Several of the smaller towns in the region were reporting problems with power being out and the hotel’s phone service had gone out due to the snow as well.
All this proved to be deadly as aftershocks from the earthquakes shook loose tons of snow that crashed into the hotel and through its walls without any warning. Early video from rescuers shows snow blasted through exterior walls and into guest rooms. Crews have been working through the morning in an effort to find any survivors. So far, two have been found, but both of those had actually been outside when the avalanche hit. No one inside the hotel has been found alive yet.
While an exact count of people potentially trapped in the hotel is not known, there were 30 guests registered in addition to staff, which could ultimately push the number of missing above 40. There is also a slim possibility that some local people were in the hotel, having been moved there after previous earthquakes made their homes unsafe. However, there is no confirmation of Hotel Rigopiano having taken any of those additional guests.
All this comes after heavy earthquakes in the region killed some 300 people last August.
Rescue efforts are ongoing, but there appears to be little hope as crews still receive no answer to their constant calls.