Five people have been confirmed dead at the hotel demolished by an avalanche in central Italy this week, and nine survivors have been pulled from the rubble, the national fire service says.
There were around 30 people in the Hotel Rigopiano when a tsunami of snow smashed into it on Wednesday, and around 15 are still unaccounted for.
The survivors were trapped under tonnes of snow and debris, and rescuers said they would work through the night to free them while the search continued for other possible survivors.
Fire service spokesman Luca Cari said an initial group of six people were found alive on Friday morning, with fire teams swiftly managing to pull two of them – a mother and her young son – to safety from a tangled mass of smashed concrete.
Rescuers clapped and shouted “bravo” as the pair were brought to the surface, led to nearby stretchers and carried by helicopter to hospital for a health check.
“They survived thanks to this bubble of air that formed inside the hotel,” said Marco Bini, a rescue worker from Italy’s finance police.
Shortly after the rescue a further four people were found trapped in the rubble and, as darkness fell over the mountains, three children were pulled to safety.
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“They are all alive and well,” Cari said.
“The rescue operation is very long and difficult … We are dealing with reinforced concrete that has collapsed.”
The disaster struck during a driving snowstorm, hours after four earthquakes with a magnitude above five rattled the region.
As much as five metres of snow covered much of what was left of the Rigopiano hotel and the only sections intact were the spa and swimming area.
Two men outside the hotel managed to escape the avalanche and raise the alarm, but the first rescuers only managed to reach the scene by ski some 11 hours later, with the access roads blocked by snow and fallen trees.
An investigation has been opened by a court in Pescara amid accusations that the emergency response was slow.