Up to six survivors of massive Italy avalanche found

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[January 20, 2017]    By Antonio Denti and Valentina Consiglio
 
 PENNE, Italy (Reuters) - Rescuers are digging to free up to six people found alive under the avalanche that buried a luxury mountain hotel in Italy almost two days ago, a fire department official said on Friday.

Firefighters work at Hotel Rigopiano in Farindola, central Italy, after it was hit by an avalanche, in this handout picture released on January 20, 2017 provided by Italy's Fire Fighters. Vigili del Fuoco/Handout via REUTERS

"They are alive. We are talking to them," Luca Cari, spokesman for the national fire brigade, said by telephone from the scene. Cari said six survivors had been found, while an Alpine Rescue official said there were five.

One of the survivors is a young girl, Deputy Interior Minister Filippo Bubbico said, speaking in the nearby town of Penne, where he is monitoring the rescue for the government.

Helicopters have been dispatched with equipment and doctors to try to extract and evacuate the survivors, Italian media said.

Rescuers searched all night for some 30 missing people. Two bodies have been removed, officials said, while Italian media said two more were located overnight.

Two men who were outside the hotel when the avalanche hitsurvived.

The disaster struck the hotel in central Italy late on Wednesday afternoon amid a driving snowstorm, just hours after four earthquakes with a magnitude above 5 rattled the area.

More than 30 people, including four children, were in the building when the avalanche slammed into it, officials said, reducing much of it to rubble and spreading debris across the valley floor.

As much as 5 meters (16 ft) of snow covered much of what is left of the hotel, said Walter Milan, a member of the Alpine Rescue service who is on the scene. Only sections of the spa and swimming area were intact, he said.

The government is meeting on Friday and is expected to declare a state of emergency.

An investigation into the tragedy has been opened by a court in Pescara amid accusations that the emergency response was slow. The first rescuers arrived amid a snow storm on skis early on Thursday morning, some 11 hours after the avalanche.

Giampiero Parete, a chef who was a guest in the hotel, had gone to his car to get some headache medicine for his wife when the avalanche struck. His wife and two children, aged six and eight, are still missing.

Parete called his boss, Quintino Marcella, with his cell phone at 5:40 p.m. on Wednesday, just after the avalanche had struck, asking him to call for help.

"He told me: 'The hotel has collapsed'" Marcella said in an interview with RAI state TV, but Marcella said the local prefecture did not immediately believe him, so he kept calling until he was assured help was on the way some two hours later.

(Reporting Antonio Denti in Penne and Valentina Consiglio in Rome, writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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