'Many dead' after avalanche hits spa hotel in Italy

Up to 30 people are feared to have died after an avalanche believed to have been triggered by an earthquake hit a spa hotel in Italy.

It buried the remote, four-storey Hotel Rigopiano in the town of Farindola in the central Abruzzo region on Wednesday night.

The top floor and roof of the complex were barely visible above a thick blanket of snow on the Gran Sasso mountain.

TV channel SKYTG24 reported bodies had been found inside, while Italian news agency ANSA quoted a rescuer as saying "there are many dead".

"What is left of the hotel is in danger of collapse. We've called out but we've heard no replies, no voices," said a rescuer.

Survivor Giampaolo Parete reportedly told doctors he escaped the avalanche because he left the hotel to fetch something from his car, but his wife and two children were still inside.

The 38-year-old chef called his boss, restaurant owner Quintino Marcella, for help, saying: "The hotel isn't there anymore. It's disappeared. It's buried."

Mr Marcella criticised the response, claiming no one took him seriously when he alerted authorities.

Newspaper Corriere della Sera quoted a text message from Fabio Salzetta, who had managed to get out.

It read: "You can't see anything of the hotel, there's only a wall of snow in front of me."

Footage from inside the submerged, luxury complex showed entire walls gone where the avalanche had smashed through, and snow and rubble cascading down corridors and a stairway in the hotel foyer.

Rescuers were filmed with shovels digging through a 16ft wall of snow in the middle of the night while battling a severe snowstorm.

The first to arrive got to the hotel on skis and spoke of witnessing "apocalyptic scenes". "We call loudly, but no one answers," said one.

Details also emerged of relatives exchanging phone messages with someone trapped inside the building, urging them to "be calm".

The avalanche came down a wooded area and also swallowed cars and livestock in its path.

The civil protection agency said "around 30 people are unaccounted for" and it was working to get emergency vehicles to the scene to assist alpine rescue squads after an ambulance got stuck in the snow about five miles from the site.

"We're dropping our rescue units down by helicopter," said Luca Cari, spokesman for the national fire service, as bulldozers cleared a snow-clogged winding road to the hotel.

Four strong earthquakes struck central Italy yesterday, measuring up to a magnitude of 5.7, the shockwaves of which could be felt in Rome.

At least 80 aftershocks were recorded last night, according to la Repubblica. However, it is unclear if a quake caused the avalanche.

The newspaper also reported phone lines at the hotel had been cut off in the storm, and a text message believed to have been sent from a couple inside read: "Help, help, we are dying of the cold."

Tom Kington, a Rome-based journalist, said the hotel was shunted 30ft down the mountain by the avalanche.

He told Sky News: "There were two children in the hotel aged four and five, so this is obviously a very serious incident."

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