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Italy avalanche: ‘They called us angels’ say rescuers, as three children among ten survivors found almost two days after hotel buried in snow

Ten people who have miraculously been found alive in the wreckage of a mountain hotel that was struck by a massive avalanche managed to survive two nights of sub-zero temperatures because the snow insulated them “like an igloo,” Italian rescuers say.
The survivors, including three children, were found after tendrils of smoke emerged from the small attic space in which they had taken refuge when the 300-yard wide avalanche all but swept away the four star Rigopiano Hotel in the Apennine mountains on Wednesday.
Among those pulled from the hotel alive on Thursday were the wife and son of Giampiero Parete, who was one of two survivors who raised the alarm on Wednesday night after leaving the hotel to fetch medication from his car moments before the avalanche hit.
Video footage released by rescuers showed eight-year-old Gianfilippo Parete, wearing blue snow trousers and a matching ski shirt, emerging from the structure and crews mussing his hair in celebration. His mother Romanian-born Adriana Vranceanu was pulled free at the same time. Still missing is the couple’s six-year-old daughter, Ludovica.
“Brava Brava!” the rescuers cheered as the pair were lifted out alive. The survivors appeared fully alert and walking on their own. Both were helped down to a stretcher for the helicopter ride out.
“This is wonderful news. It brings a feeling of pure joy,” said Federica Chiavaroli, a regional official of the discovery.
“It’s truly a miracle. This will redouble the search efforts.
“We couldn’t wish for any better news.”
Rescuers were desperately trying to extricate the other eight, including another woman and two children, from the rubble on Friday evening.
“We know they are there. We are in direct contact with a woman and two children,” said Luca Cari, a fire service spokesman
The survivors were ecstatic to be pulled out alive after spending two freezing nights inside the smashed wreckage of the hotel.
“They called us angels when they saw us,” said Marco Bini, a police alpine rescue expert who was one of the officers who discovered the survivors.
“They were so happy to see us. They hugged us and called us angels. They couldn’t believe their eyes. Their faces said it all. It was like they were reborn.”
The smoke came from one or two stoves that remained alight within the attic space. 
“We heard no voices but we smelt a very strong smell of smoke,” said Mr Bini. “We dug down into the snow with our hands. We found the top of a roof and opened it up with a drill. We discovered them in a very small space. It was a wonderful moment. The snow insulated them and protected them from the freezing temperatures outside. It was just like being in an igloo. This more than repays all our hard work.’
Despite their horrific ordeal, the survivors were uninjured.
“They seemed OK. They were in a surprisingly good state of health. When they have recovered we need to ask them where the other people might be. It’s a really big area that we are searching so the information would help a lot,” said Mr Bini.
Rescuers said there was still a very high risk of further avalanches in the area because the temperature has risen slightly and snow is melting.
“We couldn’t wish for any better news. It brings a feeling of pure joy. It’s truly a miracle,” said Federica Chiavaroli, a government official who was on the scene following the rescue effort.
“This will encourage the rescuers to redouble their efforts.”
The huge avalanche slammed into the hotel at around 5pm on Wednesday, a day after central Italy was shaken by a series of powerful earthquakes, which were felt as far away as Rome.
Rescue workers used thermal imaging equipment and microphones to try to detect any further signs of life beneath the mounds of snow, smashed tree trunks and rubble.
“This was an exceptional event,” said Mr Cari, a spokesman for the Italian fire service. “The area is covered in up to three metres of snow.”
An elderly woman in the nearby town of Penne, where the rescue operation is based, said it was the heaviest snowfall for more than half a century.
“We haven’t seen a winter like this since 1954,” she said.
The alarm was raised by Mr Parete, a hotel guest who by chance survived because he had stepped out of the hotel to retrieve some medicine for his wife.
Emergency services initially refused to believe there had been an avalanche and it was not until two hours later that rescuers were mobilised – a delay which is now subject to an official investigation.
It has also emerged that days before the disaster, Meteomont, a national service for the prevention of avalanches, had said there was a level four risk of avalanches in the region, with five the highest level.
But authorities issued no orders to evacuate the area, even after it was struck by earthquakes.
Alpine rescue specialists from the Guardia di Finanza police force reached the hotel at 4.30am on Thursday after strapping on their skis and tramping five miles through a driving blizzard.
They found a scene of devastation when they finally reached the luxury resort, which had been flattened by tonnes of snow, rock and uprooted trees.
“There was almost nothing left of the hotel, it was just a big white mound. The snow was inside the rooms of the hotel as if a cannon had shot it inside with great force. The hotel had shifted by 20 to 30 metres as a result of the avalanche.”
They found two survivors huddled in a car with the heating on – Mr Parete, who was in shock and told them repeatedly that his wife and two children were inside, and Fabio Salzetta, a maintenance worker.
Two bodies have so far been recovered from the wreckage.
Valter Milan, a spokesman for the Italian alpine rescue service, said: “Conditions are hard. We are dealing with a very difficult combination of circumstances, a mix of earthquake and avalanche conditions. Some parts of the hotel are covered by five metres of snow.”
They found a scene of devastation when they finally reached the luxury resort, which had been flattened by tonnes of snow, rock and uprooted trees.
“There was almost nothing left of the hotel, it was just a big white mound. The snow was inside the rooms of the hotel as if a cannon had shot it inside with great force. The hotel had shifted by 20 to 30 metres as a result of the avalanche.”
They found two survivors huddled in a car with the heating on – Mr Parete, who was in shock and told them repeatedly that his wife and two children were inside, and Fabio Salzetta, a maintenance worker.
Two bodies have so far been recovered from the wreckage.
Valter Milan, a spokesman for the Italian alpine rescue service, said: “Conditions are hard. We are dealing with a very difficult combination of circumstances, a mix of earthquake and avalanche conditions. Some parts of the hotel are covered by five metres of snow.”
Source: www.telegraph.co.uk

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