Italy avalanche: Desperate tourists sent texts begging for help
Terrified holidaymakers sent desperate texts begging for help after their mountain hotel was engulfed by an avalanche .
More than 30 people are feared dead after a wall of snow and rock slammed into the Hotel Rigopiano in central Italy.
A couple trapped inside the building sent a desperate text message, writing: "Help, help, we are dying of cold."
The avalanche struck on the Gran Sasso mountain range in Abruzzo on Wednesday, as guests awaited evacuation after a series of earthquakes in the region.
Friends said the holidaymakers were unable to leave as the roads were blocked and they were waiting for a snow plough. Last week, five metres of snowfall hit the Gran Sasso mountains.
A 6ft wall of snow and rock tore through the four-storey hotel, burying everyone inside and shunting the building 30ft down the mountainside.
It is thought to have hit between 4:30pm and 5:40pm local time, when the first known appeal for help was made.
Rescuers on skis battled "apocalyptic" snowstorms to reach victims in the village of Farindola on the lower slopes of Gran Sasso.
One guest, Giampiero Parete, said he survived because he had gone out to get painkillers from his car for his wife, who was then trapped inside the building with their two children.
It took emergency crews around 12 hours to reach the hotel as blizzards and the avalanche had blocked access roads.
Some rescuers reached the scene on cross-country skis at around 4.30am and others were later airlifted in on helicopters. A base camp for rescue workers was set up six miles away in the town of Penne, where ambulances waited.
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Crews searching for other survivors said yesterday they had not found any signs of life.
Alpine Rescue squad member, Antonio Crocetta, said: "The hotel is almost completely destroyed.
"We've called out but we've heard no replies, no voices. We're digging and looking for people.
"The structure has collapsed. It's more like a pile of rubble than a hotel."
Local officials said 22 guests, eight hotel workers and four visitors were inside the luxury 43-room spa resort, which is mainly used by Italian tourists, when the avalanche hit.
Local politician Antonio Di Marco said: "We don't know yet how many people are unaccounted for or dead. What is certain is that the building took a direct hit from the avalanche, to the point that it was moved by 10 metres."
Farindola's mayor, Ilario Lacchetta, said of the avalanche: "It took the whole hotel with it."
Footage from the hotel lobby shows snow and rock tearing through a wall and down the main staircase. Mr Parete said he watched from the hotel's car park as the avalanche struck. He has not been able to contact his family since.
He phoned his boss, restaurant owner Quintino Marcella, to raise the alarm and then waited for help with fellow survivor, Fabio Salzetta.
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Mr Parete, a chef, said: "I'm safe because I went to get medicine for my wife, who had a headache.
"As I walked into the hotel I heard noises and creaks and saw the mountain fall on the building. We didn't hear any noise or movement from inside the hotel. My two kids and my wife are in there.
"I tried to get inside but I risked being trapped. Then I clung to a branch and managed to get back to the car."
Mr Marcella said the clients were waiting to evacuate when the avalanche hit. He said: "The guests had paid and had reached the lobby.
"They were ready to go as soon as the snow plough arrived. They had already prepared suitcases.
"All customers wanted to leave. They were told the snow plough would arrive at 3pm but then they were told it was delayed until 7pm."
Italy's new Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, blamed the tragedy on an "unprecedented" combination of earthquakes and heavy snow.
Farindola is about 50 miles from the epicentre of the first quake, which hit around midday on Wednesday and triggered a series of aftershocks.