A woman and four children were pulled alive Friday from the ruins of an Italian hotel and five other survivors were located under the snow, two days after the building was buried under an avalanche.
The rescues mean all four children known to have been in the Rigopiano hotel when it was hit by a wall of snow on Wednesday have been saved.
It also means that an entire family of four survived the disaster in what some described as a miracle.
But not all the news was good: two bodies have been recovered so far, while at least 13 people remain unaccounted for.
Giampiero Parete had feared the worst after he avoided being swamped by the avalanche because he had gone to the family car to get his wife’s headache tablets.
“As soon as I got out I felt this wind and then this deafening noise of trees cracking, trunks cascading down the hillside,” said Parete, who was rescued himself Thursday.
But his wife Adriana and their son Gianfilipo, 7, were found on Friday morning and guided to safety. Just after nightfall it was announced six-year-old Ludovica had also been rescued.
The news came at the end of a day of painstaking efforts to find signs of life amid the snow-covered remains of the three-storey spa hotel located on the eastern lower slopes of Monte Gran Sasso, the highest peak in central Italy.
Another five survivors were still under the rubble with at least one of them injured.
“We are in vocal contact with those survivors we are still trying to rescue. We have sent a video probe down and have seen them but there is not enough space to get anything to them, no food, water or blankets,” said Italian firefighters’ spokesman Luca Cari.
Like they’d been reborn
Most of the guests were waiting to leave when the avalanche struck late Wednesday afternoon.
They had decided to leave after earthquakes in the region earlier in the day but the heavy snow blocked roads and delayed their transport.
Adriana and her son Gianfilipo were among a group of six people found in an air pocket on Friday morning.
Marco Bini, one of the officers who reached them, said the rescue team had been alerted to their possible location when they detected smoke from fires the group had lit to keep warm
“They were all in reasonable health, if very cold,” he said. “The fire will have been using up the oxygen so we were lucky to find them.
“Their faces said it all, it was like they had been reborn.”
A video released by firefighters showed the Parete’s son emerging from a snow tunnel into the daylight to cheers and friendly hair ruffles from firemen.
At least 25 people were thought to have been in the hotel when it was hit by a massive wall of snow, although the total could have been as high as 34.
Scores of mountain police, firefighters and other emergency personnel were deployed at the hotel Friday.
Progress was agonisingly slow, with rescuers wary of triggering further movements in the snow piled up on top of the masonry.
The first rescuers to reach the hotel trekked for more than eight kilometres (nearly five miles) through two-metre-high snow to get there around 4:00 am on Thursday.
They got there just in time to prevent Parete and fellow survivor Fabio Salzetta from succumbing to hypothermia.
Parete said he and his family had been among guests who wanted to leave hours before the avalanche.
Enormous wave of snow
“We’d paid the bill and were waiting for a snowplough to clear the road,” he said.
“My wife told me she had a headache so I went to the car to get some pills for her.
“Then the hotel collapsed under this enormous wave of snow and half the mountain. My car was the only thing that escaped, by a few centimetres.”
Survivors were taken to hospital in Pescara down on the nearby Adriatic coast.
Tullio Spina, director of the hospital’s emergency department, said some were in relatively good health because they had been dressed and ready to leave when the avalanche struck.
“The luck they had was that they had warm clothes on them, ski suits, which protected them.
“They were also not under snow and were protected from the cold because they were still inside the collapsed, insulated building. That’s why the hypothermia was not severe,” he added.