Saturday, January 21, 2017

Earthquakes, Massive Snowfalls, Avalanches

"I saved myself because I'd gone to pick something up from the car."
"The avalanche came and I was buried by snow but I managed to get out. The car was not buried, so I stayed there and waited for rescue operators."
Giampiero Parete, guest, Hotel Rigopiano, Farindola, Gran Sasso mountain range, Italy

"He [Giampiero Parete] said the hotel was submerged and to call rescue crews."
"The prefect's office said it wasn't true, [that an avalanche had collapsed the alpine Hotel Rigopiano], because everything was OK at the hotel."
Quintino Marcella, Giampiero Parete's employer

"I ask everyone if possible to multiply their efforts."
"I ask politicians to show sobriety respecting the difficulty of the situation and the commitment of civil and military crews who are responding."
Premier Paolo Gentiloni, Rome
Rescue crews use shovels to dig through the snow
Rescue crews use shovels to dig through the snow Credit: ITALIAN FIRE DEPARTMENT / EPA

Rescue teams from the National Alpine rescue corps attempted to use a snowplow to reach the site of the collapsed hotel, but found their way blocked as a result of the avalanche whose weight had crushed the hotel, with trees that had been uprooted by the avalanche and rocks covering the road. The crews put on cross-country skies and took two hours to complete the seven kilometres left to reach the hotel.

Helicopters were used to drop other rescue personnel closet to the scene, once daybreak had arrived the following morning. Wednesday evening, a 300-metre snow slide had rumbled down the mountainside closest to the hotel, uprooting trees and smothering the resort, its weight causing the hotel to collapse. The area had been hit by a monstrous amount of snow, isolating residents living in central Italy, an earthquake-prone zone.

By Thursday morning when rescuers finally arrived at the site, working feverishly to dig into the packed snow littered with rocks and tree limbs covering the hotel's toppled walls, no signs of life came from within; they were met with complete silence. And an estimated thirty people were known to be trapped inside. The massive snow slide had collapsed one wing of the hotel while another had rotated off its foundation, shoved downhill.

A rescue helicopter approaches the area of the hotel in Rigopiano, central Italy. The operations have been hampered by difficulty in accessing the remote hotel. Workers have been clearing a seven-kilometre road to bring in heavier equipment but it can handle only one-way traffic.
A rescue helicopter approaches the area of the hotel in Rigopiano, central Italy. The operations have been hampered by difficulty in accessing the remote hotel. Workers have been clearing a seven-kilometre road to bring in heavier equipment but it can handle only one-way traffic.  (Gregorio Borgia)
When Giampiero Parete got through to his employer on his cellphone, he conveyed to him the situation and the plight of those within, begging for an immediate response. However, when his employer called around to police and other rescue sites, his story begged belief and there was no response until finally at one emergency number his message was viewed seriously and a rescue was mobilized, two hours after he had first attempted to raise the notice of authorities.

So that when the first rescue team finally arrived, the only life they were met with was an exhausted and fearful Mr. Parete and a hotel maintenance worker, Fabio Salzetta. Earlier, after several metres of snow had fallen, the hotel had found itself without electricity and telephone service, as happened in many central Italian towns. And then four powerful earthquakes hit on Wednesday, which might likely have triggered the avalanche.

Finally, with rescue crews working feverishly around the clock, early Friday morning there was a breakthrough. Ten people were found alive in the rubble of the hotel, and brought out to safety. Among the ten were four children. "Today is a day of hope. There’s a miracle under way", Ilario Lacchetta, mayor of the tiny town of Farindola said joyfully, Four bodies were pulled out of the wreckage. And 16 people remain unaccounted for.

The frame from video shows Italian firefighters celebrating as they rescue a child alive from under snow and debris of an hotel that was hit by an avalanche on Wednesday.
The frame from video shows Italian firefighters celebrating as they rescue a child alive from under snow and debris of an hotel that was hit by an avalanche on Wednesday.  (Italian Firefighters)
Giampiero Parete, who had stepped out of the hotel just moments before the avalanche hit, to retrieve from his car medications for his wife, had his prayers answered in part. His 8-year-old son Gianfilippo Parete, and his wife Adriana Vranceanu, were both found alive and alert, and all were taken by helicopter to a hospital 60 kilometres from the hotel at a town named Pescara. The bad news for the family was that their 6-year-old daughter remained trapped inside.

"They had heavy clothes, they had ski caps to cover themselves. They remained away from the snow and cold, they were always inside the structure. That’s why the hypothermia wasn’t severe", explained Dr. Tullio Spina, director of the hospital’s intensive care and anesthesia unit.And finally, 6-year-old Ludovica Parete was rescued hours later. She wanted her favourite cookies.

Rescuers work in front of the Rigopiano Hotel 
Rescuers work in front of the Rigopiano Hotel  Credit: The National Alpine Cliff and Cave Rescue Corps (CNSAS) /AP

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