At least eight people have survived an avalanche that buried a small Italian hotel and trapped them under the wreckage of the building, Italian media reported Friday.
Rescuers had battled to reach the hotel, which is located on the Gran Sasso mountain, in the Abruzzo region, with the Italian Fire and Rescue Service tweeting aerial pictures from scene showing the hotel almost completely covered by snow on Thursday morning.
The eight people, found underneath a floor in the four-star hotel, have spoken to rescue workers on the scene, Repubblica. Italian news agency ANSA reported there were two children among the survivors.
"They are alive and we are talking to them," firefighters spokesperson Luca Cari told Reuters. He initially said as many as six people were found, while other reports indicated only five.
Five people, among them a child, have been pulled from the debris by rescuers. Five people have been flown by helicopter to Pescara's hospital, where their condition is reportedly stable. However, the child was flown to Aquila's hospital larger hospital, Repubblica reported, as her condition was serious.
One of the two known survivors is reported to be Giampaolo Parete, 38, who told local Abruzzo newspaper Il Centro he "went to get something from his car" just moments before the avalanche. La Repubblica reported that Parete's wife was among those rescued, although reports on his children are confused.
"I have lost everything," he told Corriere Della Sera. "Below are my wife and my two children Ludovica, who is six, and Gianfilippo, 8 years old."
The other individual, identified by the newspaper as Fabio Salzetta, is believed to be in a serious but stable condition after being airlifted to hospital suffering from hypothermia.
By Thursday night, with the search was still ongoing, rescuers had not managed to pull any more survivors or bodies from the wreckage, the Associated Press reported.
"The situation is catastrophic," Marshall Lorenzo Gagliardi, one of the first rescuers to arrive at the scene, told the AP. "The mountain-facing side is completely destroyed and buried by snow: the kitchen, hotel rooms, hall."
Fabrizio Curcio, a civil protection official, told the AP Thursday that crews still hoped to find survivors, though the odds of success were diminishing as time passed.
Rescuers first entered the building at around 10 a.m. (local time). Shaking video, taken by the rescuers and aired by Italian news RAI, showed a scene of devastation.
"The hotel no longer exists, was swept away, the situation is catastrophic," a spokesperson for the Vigili del Fuoco, the Italian fire and rescue service, said.
Ghiaccio e macerie dentro l'Hotel #Rigopiano travolto dalla valanga: le prime immagini dell'interno →… https://t.co/QjzpDyTidx
Several children were believed to be staying in the hotel at the time of the avalanche, prefect of Pescara, Francesco Provolo said.
Rescue crews said they were calling out for survivors, but they didn't hear any responses, RAI news reported.
"We've called out but we've heard no replies, no voices. We're digging and looking for people," rescue team member Antonio Crocetta told Reuters over the phone.
The first victim, a man who has not been formally identified, was pulled from the snow at around 8:30 a.m. (GMT), the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported. Local media later reported that two more bodies had been pulled from the debris, although there was no confirmation of this from officials.
"I will not give numbers or data on potential victims Rigopiano hotel, out of respect for the families of the guests of the hotel, waiting for news with justified apprehension," the prefect of the region, Francesco Provolo, told reporters.
At least 20 firemen, two mountain rescue teams, and six ambulances were en route to the scene last night, Reuters reported. Their approach was hampered by snowy conditions, with the ambulances stuck around 9km from the scene, SKYTG24 reported, before eventually making it to the hotel.
Le immagini dall'elicottero della #PoliziadiStato che sorvola l'hotel di #Rigopiano sommerso dalla neve
First responders eventually reached the scene – traveling on skis – at around 3 a.m. (GMT) Thursday morning.
Hotel Rigopiano is described as a four-star resort, with 43 rooms.
Four earthquakes struck central Italy on Wednesday, although no casualties were initially reported. Aftershocks struck the area through the night.
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said his country was caught between the "unprecedented vice" of earthquakes and heavy snow. Elsewhere in Europe other politicians also expressed sympathy. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Union Commission, tweeted that Europe was ready to help.
Heartfelt condolences to those who lost loved ones in #Italy. Europe is ready to help. Siamo tutti vicini all'Italia https://t.co/dsXMVKmlBs
Giampaolo Parete is one of the known survivors, according to reports. An earlier version of this post misstated his name.