Hopes fade of finding survivors buried under avalanche in Italy

PENNE, Italy, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Hopes of finding survivors dwindled on Thursday more than 24 hours after an avalanche struck a luxury mountain hotel in Italy burying up to 30 people under tonnes of snow and debris.

The Civil Protection department said just two bodies had been recovered but its chief said the search for victims and possible survivors would continue through the night.

"There is always hope, if there were no hope the rescuers wouldn't give everything they've got," Fabrizio Curcio told reporters. He said his teams would "continue to do everything possible during the night," even though conditions were far more difficult than in daytime.

RELATED: Italy earthquakes greater than 5.0M in last year

The disaster struck hours after four earthquakes with a magnitude above 5 hit central Italy.

Titti Postiglione, head of the department's emergency office, said more snow could fall from peaks in the Gran Sasso mountain range in the central Abruzzo region because the temperature was rising, while further quakes were possible.

"This is an enormously complex rescue operation," she said.

The gabled peaks of parts of the roof and a row of windows were the only sections of the four-storey Hotel Rigopiano visible after the wall of snow smashed into the four-star spa resort on Wednesday evening.

"This is a tragedy of enormous proportions," said Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin.

Local authorities said about 30 people had been in the building at the time, including two children. The only survivors found were two men who had been outside when the disaster struck.

"The hotel is almost completely destroyed. We've called out but we've heard no replies, no voices," said Antonio Crocetta, a member of the Alpine Rescue squad.

"We're digging and looking for people," he told Reuters by phone from the isolated location.

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Hotel in Italy hit by avalanche
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Hotel in Italy hit by avalanche
A mountain view from the main road to Monterale, after a 5.7-magnitude earthquake struck the region, on January 19, 2017. Several people have died after a ski hotel was buried by an avalanche in earthquake-hit central Italy, local media reported quoting rescue services. 'There are many dead,' Antonio Crocetta, the head of a group of Alpine police that was trying to reach the cut-off hotel, was quoted as saying. / AFP / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
Firefighters arrive near Hotel Rigopiano, hit by an avalanche, in Farindola, central Italy, in this January 19, 2017 handout picture provided by Italy's firefighters. Vigili del Fuoco/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
An aerial view shows Hotel Rigopiano in Farindola, central Italy, hit by an avalanche, in this January 19, 2017 handout picture provided by Italy's firefighters. Vigili del Fuoco/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Snow covers a car of the Italian Civil Protection (Protezione Civile) parked at a nearby sports ground in Montereale, after a 5.7-magnitude earthquake struck the region, on January 19, 2017. / AFP / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
A car drives along the main road to Monterale, after a 5.7-magnitude earthquake struck the region, on January 19, 2017. Several people have died after a ski hotel was buried by an avalanche in earthquake-hit central Italy, local media reported quoting rescue services. 'There are many dead,' Antonio Crocetta, the head of a group of Alpine police that was trying to reach the cut-off hotel, was quoted as saying. / AFP / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
A photo taken from a video shows the snow inside the Hotel Rigopiano in Farindola, central Italy, hit by an avalanche, in this January 19, 2017 handout picture provided by Italy's Finance Police.
A photo taken from a video shows the snow inside the Hotel Rigopiano in Farindola, central Italy, hit by an avalanche, in this January 19, 2017 handout picture provided by Italy's Finance Police.
A photo taken from a video shows the snow inside the Hotel Rigopiano in Farindola, central Italy, hit by an avalanche, in this January 19, 2017 handout picture provided by Italy's Finance Police.
An aerial photo shows the rescuers heading to Hotel Rigopiano in Farindola, central Italy, hit by an avalanche, in this January 19, 2017 handout picture provided by Italian Police.
A photo taken from a video shows a survivor, helped by rescuers, coming out from Hotel Rigopiano in Farindola, central Italy, hit by an avalanche, in this January 19, 2017 handout picture provided by Italy's Finance Police.
A photo taken from a video shows a rescuer entering the Hotel Rigopiano in Farindola, central Italy, hit by an avalanche, in this January 19, 2017 handout picture provided by Italy's Finance Police.
A photo taken from a video shows a rescuer entering the Hotel Rigopiano in Farindola, central Italy, hit by an avalanche, in this January 19, 2017 handout picture provided by Italy's Finance Police.
Dogs stand in front of a large tent on a nearby sports ground in Montereale, after a 5.7-magnitude earthquake struck the region, on January 19, 2017. Several people have died after a ski hotel was buried by an avalanche in earthquake-hit central Italy, local media reported quoting rescue services. 'There are many dead,' Antonio Crocetta, the head of a group of Alpine police that was trying to reach the cut-off hotel, was quoted as saying. / AFP / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
A mountain view taken along the main road to Monterale, after a 5.7-magnitude earthquake struck the region, on January 19, 2017. Several people have died after a ski hotel was buried by an avalanche in earthquake-hit central Italy, local media reported quoting rescue services. 'There are many dead,' Antonio Crocetta, the head of a group of Alpine police that was trying to reach the cut-off hotel, was quoted as saying. / AFP / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
Two dogs wonder past a vehicle and mounds of snow at a nearby sports ground in Montereale, after a 5.7-magnitude earthquake struck the region, on January 19, 2017. Several people have died after a ski hotel was buried by an avalanche in earthquake-hit central Italy, local media reported quoting rescue services. 'There are many dead,' Antonio Crocetta, the head of a group of Alpine police that was trying to reach the cut-off hotel, was quoted as saying. / AFP / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
A mountain view from the main road to Monterale, after a 5.7-magnitude earthquake struck the region, on January 19, 2017. Several people have died after a ski hotel was buried by an avalanche in earthquake-hit central Italy, local media reported quoting rescue services. 'There are many dead,' Antonio Crocetta, the head of a group of Alpine police that was trying to reach the cut-off hotel, was quoted as saying. / AFP / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
A photo taken from a video shows a survivor, helped by rescuers, coming out from Hotel Rigopiano in Farindola, central Italy, hit by an avalanche, in this January 19, 2017 handout picture provided by Italy's Finance Police.     
A still image taken from a video shows firefighters working at Hotel Rigopiano in Farindola, central Italy, after it was hit by an avalanche, January 20, 2017 provided by Italy's Fire Fighters. Vigili del Fuoco/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
A still image taken from a video shows a firefighter working at Hotel Rigopiano in Farindola, central Italy, after it was hit by an avalanche, January 20, 2017 provided by Italy's Fire Fighters. Vigili del Fuoco/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
A still image taken from a video shows firefighters working at Hotel Rigopiano in Farindola, central Italy, after it was hit by an avalanche, January 20, 2017 provided by Italy's Fire Fighters.Vigili del Fuoco/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
A still image taken from a video shows the snow inside the Hotel Rigopiano, central Italy, after it was hit by an avalanche, January 20, 2017 provided by Italy's Fire Fighters. Vigili del Fuoco/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
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 ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Italian air helicopters rescuers join the rescue operation near the village of Penne, after an avalanche engulfed the mountain hotel Rigopiano in Farindola in the earthquake-ravaged central Italy, on January 20, 2017. At least 25 people, including several children, were feared dead after a barrage of snow hit the Hotel Rigopiano on Januray 18, afternoon, ripping the three-storey building from its foundations and moving it ten metres (11 yards). / AFP / Andreas SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
Italian air helicopters rescuers join the rescue operation near the village of Penne, after an avalanche engulfed the mountain hotel Rigopiano in Farindola in the earthquake-ravaged central Italy, on January 20, 2017. At least 25 people, including several children, were feared dead after a barrage of snow hit the Hotel Rigopiano on Januray 18, afternoon, ripping the three-storey building from its foundations and moving it ten metres (11 yards). / AFP / Andreas SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
Italian air helicopters rescuers join the rescue operation near the village of Penne, after an avalanche engulfed the mountain hotel Rigopiano in Farindola in the earthquake-ravaged central Italy, on January 20, 2017. At least 25 people, including several children, were feared dead after a barrage of snow hit the Hotel Rigopiano on Januray 18, afternoon, ripping the three-storey building from its foundations and moving it ten metres (11 yards). / AFP / Andreas SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
Rescuers remove snow next to a house on a road to the village of Penne, after an avalanche engulfed the mountain hotel Rigopiano in Farindola in earthquake-ravaged central Italy, on January 19, 2017. At least 25 people, including several children, were feared dead after a barrage of snow hit the Hotel Rigopiano on Wednesday afternoon, ripping the three-storey building from its foundations and moving it ten metres (11 yards). / AFP / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
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Rescue workers entered what appeared to be a lobby decorated with oil paintings and plants, where a landslide had torn through a wall, television footage showed.

Mattresses and furniture were spotted dozens of metres (yards) away and sniffer dogs were helping with the search.

RELATED: Major Italian earthquakes since 1900

"I am alive because I went to get something from my car," Giampiero Parete told medical staff. Italian media said he had been on holiday with his wife and two children, who are missing.

Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni called for national unity, saying Italy was caught in an "unprecedented vice" of earthquakes and heavy snows.

The rescue operation was hampered by deep snow which has fallen on the Gran Sasso in recent days. Drifts made snow as deep as five metres (16 feet) in some places and snow ploughs struggled to cut a path up winding mountain roads.

The first rescuers arrived at 4.30 a.m. (0330 GMT) after having to ski through a blizzard to reach the site. After dawn broke, emergency services sent in helicopters.

A base camp for rescue workers was set up in the town of Penne, some 10 km (6 miles) away, where ambulances waited.

The avalanche shunted the 43-room hotel, which is 1,200 metres (4,000 ft) above sea level, about 10 metres down the hill, according to media reports.

Italian media said guests at the hotel had checked out and were waiting for a snow plough to arrive to open up the road and let them down the mountain when the avalanche struck. (Reporting by Philip Pullella, Valentina Consiglio, Steve Scherer and Gavin Jones; Editing by Janet Lawrence)




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