ROME — An earthquake-triggered avalanche buried a hotel at a ski resort in central Italy, leaving up to 29 hotel guests and workers missing or dead, rescue workers said early Thursday.
Authorities battled atrocious weather conditions overnight as they tried to reach the Hotel Rigopiano in the town of Farindola, on the Gran Sasso mountain in the central Abruzzo region.
“There are many dead,” Antonio Crocetta from the Abruzzo mountain rescue team told Italy’s ANSA news agency.
Fabrizio Curcio, head of Italy’s civil protection agency, confirmed that 22 guests registered at the hotel were unaccounted for, along with seven workers.
One body has been found so far, Curcio said.
At least two men survived because they were outside the hotel at the time — including Giampaolo Parete, a 38-year-old whose wife and two children were reportedly still missing inside.
Alberto Albano, head of the emergency room at the nearby Pescara hospital, told NBC News that Parete was suffering from hypothermia but was in a stable condition. He could not confirm Italian media reports that Parete survived only because he had gone outside to his car to get some medicines.
Italy’s Civil Protection department said overnight that it dispatched a team of 20 rescuers including seven firefighters, two mountain rescue teams and six ambulances. They reached the scene at 4:30 a.m. local time Thursday (10:30 p.m. Wednesday ET) to find the four-star retreat buried under huge piles of snow and debris.
Local media pictures showed rescuers with shovels digging through a wall of snow, and at least one man being led through the cleared path.
Mounds of debris appeared to have smashed through a hotel wall into the lobby.
The buried hotel was just one of several rescues underway in a region that has been pummeled by more than three feet of snow in recent days.
The area has been shaken by dozens of aftershocks since a major quake last August that killed nearly 300 people and ruined buildings in historic towns and hamlets.
Four strong temblors struck Wednesday morning, adding to problems caused by cold weather and winter storms. The first, with a preliminary magnitude of 5.3, hit Montereale at about 10:25 a.m. (5:25 a.m. ET), according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Throughout Wednesday, seismologists registered more than 100 aftershocks.
The three-story Hotel Rigopiano features a spa and thermal pool and is billed as a luxury retreat with more than 40 rooms. The last tweet on its official account was a message from Wednesday that said: “Due to bad weather the phone lines are down.”
Video shot by rescue teams showed huge piles of filthy snow and debris piled up inside corridors, stairwells and an indoor pool area, having slammed through the outer walls of the building. The largest wall of snow shown was in the pool area, where plastic lounge chairs were flipped on their sides and Christmas decorations still dangled from the ceiling.
The bar area appeared flooded, with nearby cracked skylights covered with snow outside.
In Rome, more than 100 miles away from epicenter, the subway system was closed for several hours Wednesday as a precaution following the quakes.
Maurizio Pelosi, mayor of the town of Capitagno, near the epicenter of Wednesday’s quakes, said many local roads were blocked due to the snow even before the temblors.