‘Angels! Angels!’ Avalanche Survivors Call Out to Rescuers

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PENNE, Italy (CNN) — Two days after a deadly avalanche swallowed a hotel in Italy trapping people inside, rescuers made a breakthrough.

They heard a hopeful sound in the snow on Friday, after drilling a hole to punch through the roof of the destroyed Hotel Rigopiano.

“Angels! Angels!” survivors called out when the rescuers first broke through.

In a highly emotional scene, crews pulled survivors from the avalanche site. They burst into cheers, yelling “Bravo!” as a young boy was lifted from a deep hole in the snow.

Rescuers found 10 people in the wreckage of the hotel on Friday. Five of them have been rescued and the remaining half are waiting to be extracted, according to the Italian Civil Protection Agency.

Four of the five who were pulled out of the hotel are children, according to the agency.

The survivors were found “in an area of the hotel where there was an air pocket where they could breathe, luckily. They didn’t light up a fire, but the snow above and below them protected them and kept a steady temperature even during the night,” said Marco Bini from the Italian financial police’s alpine rescue team.

They showed signs of hypothermia, but none have life-threatening injuries, he said.

So far, a total of seven survivors have been pulled from the hotel site since the avalanche — five on Friday and two on Thursday.

Two people have been confirmed dead.

Hopes of finding more survivors

Hotel Rigopiano, a four-star hotel located at the foot of the Gran Sasso mountain about 135 kilometers (85 miles) northeast of Rome, was buried in snow Wednesday afternoon local time after a series of earthquakes.

The hotel was in the process of being evacuated when the avalanche hit, officials said. Guests had settled their bills and were waiting together in the lobby with their luggage.

The force of the avalanche was so great that the hotel building shifted 10 meters (11 yards) down the slope from its foundations, the Civil Protection Department said. Debris scattered as far as 100 meters (109 yards) from the hotel structure, according to the fire department.

So far, authorities have yet to give a definitive number for those missing. Officials based estimates of the missing on guest registration and staff numbers. The hotel has 43 rooms and spa facilities, according to website TripAdvisor.

All the guests are believed to have been locals who were taking advantage of discounted rates to stay in a normally pricey spa hotel before the peak February skiing season.

Authorities still hope to find others who could have survived in the air pockets within the building.

“There is hope,” Bini said. “Because we found this air pocket, we believe there could be others so yes, we have hope to find others.”

Hope renewed of finding survivors

The discovery of survivors has given new energy to the search and rescue teams, who are battling freezing conditions and failing light. They are having to work with their hands much of the time because of the treacherous conditions, Bini said.

The rescue workers are trying to get any information they can from the survivors which might help to locate more people missing under the snow, he said.

One man who had been found on Thursday was Giampiero Parete, who had been vacationing with his wife and two children, 6 and 8.

He said he missed being caught in the destruction only because he had walked to his car to get medicine for his wife just before the avalanche hit. It’s not yet known if his wife and children are among the survivors found Friday.

Families of those missing are gathering in the city of Pescara in hope of hearing that their loved ones have been pulled out alive.

Difficult access

Rescue efforts have been hindered by deep snow, combined with the earthquake and the possibility of more avalanches.

Access to the hotel had been difficult, but road crews cleared much of the snow and fallen trees by Thursday night, allowing heavy rescue equipment to reach the building.

Communication issues are also complicating efforts. Authorities are hoping to bring power back to as many as 90,000 people who were left in darkness overnight from the extreme weather.

Many people slept in shelters overnight Thursday to Friday despite the bitter cold and continuing snowfall because of the fear of more avalanches.

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