Sunday 30 April 2017

Death toll rises to 24 as Italian PM admits delay in avalanche response time

Rescuers continue to work at the scene of the avalanche-struck Hotel Rigopiano, near Farindola, central Italy (Corpo Nazionale Soccorso Alpino e Speleologico/ANSA via AP)
Rescuers continue to work at the scene of the avalanche-struck Hotel Rigopiano, near Farindola, central Italy (Corpo Nazionale Soccorso Alpino e Speleologico/ANSA via AP)
A child rescued from the Hotel Rigopiano is hugged by a rescue worker. Photo: Reuters
Rescuers hold three puppies that were found alive in the rubble of the avalanche-hit Hotel Rigopiano. Photo: AP
A firefighter kisses one of the three puppies that were found alive in the rubble of the avalanche-hit Hotel Rigopiano, near Farindola, central Italy, Monday, Jan. 22, 2017. Emergency crews digging into an avalanche-slammed hotel were cheered Monday by the discovery of three puppies who had survived for days under tons of snow, giving them new hope for the 23 people still missing in the disaster. (Italian Firefighters via AP)
A video still shows firefighters rescuing Gianfilippo Parete (8). Photos: Getty. Photo: Vigili del Fuoco/Handout via Reuters

Crispian Balmer

Italy's prime minister has acknowledged delays and "malfunctioning" in the country's response to the avalanche that buried a mountain hotel - but said it is wrong to try to find scapegoats now.

In a briefing to parliament, Paolo Gentiloni said the government does not fear the truth and that criminal investigations will ascertain responsibilities.

But he said such investigations are not meant "to poison the well".

He said he shares the search for truth but not the scapegoating that has begun.

Audio recordings of an emergency call have shown how the first alarms about the avalanche were brushed off by the Pescara prefect's office, which assured the caller the hotel was fine.

Twenty-four people died in the January 18 disaster at the Hotel Rigopiano in Italy's central Abruzzo region. Five remain under the rubble.

Rescue crews recovered several more bodies from the rubble on Wednesday, even as they mourned colleagues who were killed in a nearby helicopter crash.

The emergency helicopter slammed into a mountainside buried in thick fog on Tuesday as its crew was rescuing an injured skier.

The two pilots, three crew members and the skier were killed.

Some of the rescue team onboard had been working at the avalanche site about 100 kilometres (60 miles) away up until Monday.

Rescuers workers pulled three more bodies overnight from the wreck of a hotel in central Italy that was razed by an avalanche one week ago, bringing the death toll to 21, the national fire brigade said on Wednesday.

Eight people are still missing.

Eleven guests and workers at the Hotel Rigopiano survived the disaster. The last of them were pulled from the submerged ruins of the luxury spa early on Saturday, and hopes of finding anyone else alive are fading.

Prosecutors in nearby Pescara have opened an investigation into the January 18 avalanche in the Gran Sasso national park, which came after heavy snow storms and a flurry of powerful earthquakes.

Many guests at the hotel wanted to return home but were unable to leave because the access road was blocked by snow.

Rescuers are mourning colleagues killed in a nearby helicopter crash.

The emergency helicopter slammed into a mountainside in the Campo Felice area on Tuesday as its crew was rescuing an injured skier, killing the two pilots, three crew and the skier.

Some of the crew had been working at the Hotel Rigopiano avalanche site in the central Abruzzo region about 60 miles away, up until Monday.

Reuters

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