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Italy rescuers race to find 23 missing in avalanche hotel

world Updated: Jan 21, 2017 23:35 IST
AFP
Hotel Rigopiano

Rescuers work in the area of the avalanche-hit Rigopiano hotel, central Italy, on Saturday. After two days huddled in freezing cold, tons of snow surrounding them in the wreckage of the hotel, survivors greeted their rescuers Friday as "angels." (AP Photo)

Italian rescuers pulled four survivors from an avalanche-hit hotel on Saturday and said they remained hopeful of finding alive at least some of the 23 people still trapped under the ruins.

The latest rescues lifted the total number of survivors to 11.

But there were 23 people still unaccounted for, according to a first official statement on the number of missing.

Morale among the teams of mountain police and firefighters remained high after on Friday’s dramatic rescue of all four children who were inside the Hotel Rigopiano, in central Italy, along with the mother of two of them.

Read l Trapped in the snow: 9 chilling photos of Italy avalanche that buried hotel

But the rescue operation, now in its third day, was increasingly resembling a race against the clock amid fears that anyone still alive could succumb to the cold before being found.

Two men and two women were rescued alive on Saturday.

There were no reports of any other signs of life but officials emphasised that was no reason to give up hope.

A rescuer rests in a sports palace turned into a coordination centre, in Penne, central Italy, early Saturday. Rescuers listened for signs on Saturday of any more survivors, three days after an avalanche slammed into a resort hotel in Italy's central Apennines mountains. (AP Photo)

Enrica Centi, a spokeswoman for the mountain rescuers involved in the operation, said: “There is still hope because although no more voices have been heard, there may be people trapped behind or under a cement wall which would make it impossible to hear them.”

Heavy snow and poor visibility that grounded helicopters in the area was hampering the rescue effort.

“The operation continues to be very complicated,” said Fabrizio Curcio, head of the civil protection agency. “The rescuers are working in extreme conditions.”

Teams of firefighters and police are combing a debris-strewn area bigger than several football pitches as a result of the devastating force of the avalanche, which pushed the three-storey hotel some 10 metres (30 feet) from its foundations.

And Friday’s rescue showed that even once someone is located, it can take many more hours to complete their extraction amid an ever-present risk of further masonry collapses.

The latest operations bring to 11 the total number people who survived the disaster, including two hotel guests who were outside when the avalanche struck just before nightfall on Wednesday.