Desperate guests trapped inside an Italian hotel have been sending texts to loved-ones after the building was crushed by a huge avalanche killing up to 30 people.
One message, believed to have been sent from the four-star Hotel Rigopiano, said ‘Help, help, we are dying of the cold’ while another, sent from outside, urged those still caught inside to ‘be calm’.
Other trapped guests are reported to have sent texts directly to emergency services with phone lines in rooms said to have been cut off by the force of the avalanche.
The hotel, in the remote village of Farindola, was crushed under a 6ft wall of snow yesterday as four earthquakes hit the central Italian region of Abruzzo.
Mountain emergency crews using cross country skis trekked six miles through the night to reach the hotel, battling through 15ft of snow which has fallen in a matter of days.
There are reports this morning that as many as 30 people – guests and staff – are missing after thousands of tonnes of snow engulfed the three-storey hotel, causing part of it to collapse and shifting the building 30ft. Two have been rescued so far.
According to Sky, One text message sent to someone inside the hotel said: ‘They are extracting them from the hotel, and bringing them to hospitals, I think. But I don’t know because it is impossible for us to go up. I am sorry.’
Earlier, it emerged that a father had survived the tragedy because he left to get something from his car when the avalanche hit the building. But he told doctors the wall of snow had buried his wife and two children.
Giampaolo Parete, 38, was one of two people rescued from the three-storey hotel.
One of the two survivors has been flown by helicopter to hospital suffering from hypothermia.
Rescuers, who have begun extracting bodies after battling through blizzard conditions to reach the hotel on skis or by helicopter, say there were no signs of life inside the building.
An aerial shot of the hotel released by the fire brigade showed just the last floor and the roof visible above a thick blanket of snow. Initial television pictures showed that mounds of snow and debris had smashed through a hotel wall into the lobby.
Video footage showed rescuers with shovels digging through a wall of snow, and at least one man being led through the cleared path. An ambulance was blocked several miles from the hotel, according to Sky, while footage showed emergency services helicopters in the air near the scene.
Italy’s Civil Protection Agency said there had been around 30 guests and staff at the hotel on the eastern lower slopes of the Gran Sasso mountain.
It said it could not immediately confirm any deaths out of respect for the families of the guests and staff.
Antonio Di Marco, president of the province of Pescara, which includes the mountain village of Farindola, said two people had been saved.
‘We don’t know yet how many people are unaccounted for or dead,’ he wrote on his Facebook page.
‘What is certain is that the building took a direct hit from the avalanche, to the point that it was moved by 10 metres.’
Farindola mayor Ilario Lacchetta said on his Facebook page that ‘the dimensions of the avalanche were huge.
‘It took the whole hotel with it.’ he said.
The region was hit by four seismic shocks measuring above five magnitude in the space of four hours on Wednesday, with at least one person confirmed dead.
The hotel is located around 55 miles from the epicentre of the quakes.
Twenty firemen, two mountain rescue teams, six ambulances and local police were heading for the site last night, but the weather conditions were expected to cause major delays, a civil protection agency spokesman said.
Italy was hit by four earthquakes in four hours on Wednesday, killing one and bringing terror to snowbound mountain areas still recovering from last year’s series of deadly tremors.
The quakes, all measuring more than five magnitude, struck close to Amatrice, the mountain town devastated by an August earthquake that left nearly 300 people dead.
The body of one victim was found under the debris of a building in the town of Castel Castagna, in the province of Teramo, local authorities said in a statement.
And as night fell and temperatures plummeted, fears mounted for isolated residents of remote hamlets cut off by heavy snowfall, while more than 130,000 homes were without electricity.
A mother and child dragged from the ruins of a collapsed country cottage near Teramo in the Abruzzo region were both found to be suffering from hypothermia.
SOURCE: JULIAN ROBINSON