Emergency crews are continuing their search for more survivors in an avalanche-crushed hotel in Italy after pulling out four people from the rubble overnight.
The operation to bring four more survivors to the hospital raised to at least nine the number of people found alive in the rubble of Wednesday’s avalanche.
Some 30 people were inside the Hotel Rigopiano in central Italy’s snow-covered Gran Sasso mountain range at the time of the snow slide.
Two other people escaped the devastation just before the avalanche struck, including Giampiero Parete, a chef holidaying with his family who first sounded the alarm by calling his boss. He was reunited with his wife and two children on Saturday after they were among the first to be located and extracted from the debris.
“Thank you everyone from my heart,” Mr Parete wrote on Facebook. “Big hugs.”
Firefighter spokesman Alberto Maiolo said four bodies had been found in the rubble, in addition to the four people pulled out alive overnight.
“We are still working, we are verifying the signals we have and continuing our activities to verify if there are other people and when we will be able to pull them out,” Mr Maiolo said on Saturday.
There was some confusion about the number of people rescued; Mr Maiolo earlier spoke of 11 in all.
The avalanche dumped 16ft (5m) of snow on top of the resort, located 115 miles (180 km) north east of Rome. The region, which has been blanketed by heavy snowfall, was also rocked by four strong earthquakes on Wednesday.
Prosecutors have opened a manslaughter investigation and were looking into whether the avalanche threat was taken seriously enough, and whether the hotel should have been evacuated earlier given the heavy snowfall and forecasts.
“That hotel… should it have been open?” prosecutor Christina Tedeschini was quoted by the ANSA news agency as saying. “If the people wanted to leave, what prevented them from doing so?”
Mr Parete said the guests had all checked out and were waiting for the road to be cleared so they could evacuate. But the snowplough never arrived and the avalanche hit around 5:30 pm on Wednesday.