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Survivors found in Italian hotel buried by avalanche; rescuers cry 'Bravo'

Ten people were found alive Friday under the debris of a spa hotel in central Italy, two days after an avalanche started by earthquakes flattened the building.

Among those rescued was an 8-year-old boy pulled out 42 hours after he was buried alive. Rescuers ruffled his hair, clapped and cried, “Bravo.”

His mother, 43, was also helped to safety, as was his 6-year-old sister. Two other children were saved too, officials said. 

“It was wonderful, they couldn’t believe their eyes and told us they had given up hope,” said rescuer Marco Bini, a police mountain rescue official who was among about 50 government emergency workers at the hotel.

“Their faces said it all, it was like they were reborn,” Bini said. “They were tired but in good condition. This more than repays us for the work we have done.”

Rescuers were working to free the five other people found alive by late Friday in the tangled debris of the Hotel Rigopiano, close to the town of Farindola in the mountainous region of Abruzzo.

“We have now opened a way inside the hotel, but the risk of further collapses inside makes it very dangerous in there,” Bini said.

Rising temperatures also increased the risk of new avalanches in an area where snow lies six feet deep.

Emergency crews have searched round the clock since early Thursday for around 30 guests and staff who were trapped under 15 feet of snow, tree trunks and boulders that hit the hotel Wednesday afternoon.

Italian junior minister Federica Chiavaroli was thrilled about survivors being found so long after the avalanche, saying, "It's a miracle."

“Now I hope they find all of them — efforts are now being doubled and tripled,” she said.

The first pair of survivors pulled free Thursday were identified as the wife and son of Giampiero Parete, an Italian chef who left the hotel moments before the avalanche hit to get his wife headache medicine from his car, and was found alive Thursday suffering from hypothermia.

As she was helped to the surface, Parete’s wife, Adriana Vranceanu, urged rescuers to burrow into a next-door room, where she said the couple's 6-year-old daughter, Ludovica, was trapped.

The chef said guests were already trying to leave the hotel before the avalanche struck because they were alarmed by four earthquakes that rattled the building Wednesday. They were told they could not leave because no snowplow was available to clear the road.

An earthquake in the area last August flattened the town of Amatrice and killed nearly 300.

Officials said the 6-foot-high avalanche Wednesday was almost certainly triggered by the recent quakes, each measuring more than magnitude 5.

Two bodies were pulled from the wreckage Thursday, officials said.

Parete’s wife and son survived because they were protected by thick walls that held back the snow, but made it hard for their shouts for help to be heard, officials said. Sniffer dogs were used to locate them. 

Despite freezing temperatures, survivors under the wreckage may have been kept alive thanks to the air remaining relatively warm in isolated air pockets. “It’s the same concept as an igloo,” Bini said.

Survivor Fabio Salzetta, a maintenance worker at the hotel, was protected because he was in the reinforced concrete room containing the boiler. He was rescued Thursday and flown back to the site Friday to help guide rescuers to spaces where more survivors might be found.

“The problem is we have the plans, but the hotel was turned upside down,” Bini said. 

As Italian army digging equipment arrived on the scene Friday, rescuers were using microphones and thermal imaging cameras to search for signs of life.

“Our sniffer dogs are still the most reliable,” said Luca Cari, a spokesman for Italian firefighters.

Cari added, “The hotel was so hard hit we found a mattress 500 meters from the site.”

Prosecutors opened a probe to determine whether hotel and local officials did not take the threat of an avalanche serious enough. In addition, prosecutor Christina Tedeschini reportedly said officials were looking into whether local authorities did not heed pleas for a rescue team until about two hours after the avalanche occurred about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.  

The effort to help those trapped included rescuers who resorted to cross-country skiing to reach the hotel because the road was blocked by minor avalanches.

Lorenzo Gagliardi, one of those who donned skis, said it took four hours to travel eight kilometers (about five miles) to reach the hotel during a fierce blizzard. 

“We moved forward in single file, each skier 20 meters [about 66 feet] behind the one in front, so that if another avalanche came, it would not have taken all of us,” he said.

Kington is a special correspondent.

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UPDATES:

1:45 p.m.: This article has been updated with more information on survivors and other details.

9:15 a.m.: This article has been updated with Times reporting.

7:40 a.m.: This article has been updated with descriptions of avalanche survivors.

4:40 a.m.: This article was updated with reports of additional survivors.

This article was originally published at 3:20 a.m.

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