When An Avalanche Struck A Hotel In Italy, Rescuers Feared The Worst. Then They Heard 3 Faint Cries…

It had been one of the toughest weeks imaginable. After five days of digging through the avalanche, and with nine fatalities already confirmed, rescuers knew the clock was ticking. But then, someone heard three muffled cries coming from below the snow.

On January 18, 2017, a series of earthquakes struck Italy’s Apennine Mountains. And on the Gran Sasso peak, the four tremors triggered an avalanche. Within minutes, the Hotel Rigopiano was buried in snow.

And while the earthquakes sparked an evacuation of its 28 guests and 12 staff, it was soon too late. The sudden impact brought part of the hotel’s roof crashing down and pushed the building 33 feet from its foundations. Those inside, most of whom had gathered on the ground floor, were effectively powerless.

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To make matters worse, recent snowfall prevented rescuers from quickly reaching the hotel. And when emergency services finally did arrive, they faced an extreme challenge. The hotel, indeed, was beneath 14 feet of snow.

Estimates indicate that 120,000 tons of snow hit the hotel at 60 miles per hour. In order to access any potential survivors, rescue teams dug shafts into the deep snow. They also used electronic probes to detect for any signs of life.

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“The hotel is almost completely destroyed,” Antonio Crocetta, from Alpine Rescue, told Reuters. “We’ve called out but we’ve heard no replies, no voices,” he added. “We’re digging and looking for people.”

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Around 12 hours after the avalanche hit, rescuers finally reached the hotel. Their efforts got off to a discouraging start, however, with the recovery of two bodies from the wreckage. However, the situation did become more hopeful as the rescuers continued their work.

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Four days into the search, rescuers pulled out four children and a woman – all of them alive. In the hours before, they had rescued another four adults. “Today is a day of hope. There’s a miracle under way,” Ilario Lacchetta, the mayor of Farindola, said.

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Then, the next day, rescuers found three more furry reasons to be hopeful. While searching the hotel’s boiler room, they discovered a trio of fluffy, white Abruzzo sheepdog puppies. The adorable dogs were just a month old.

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The pup’s were born in December 2016 to the hotel’s resident dogs, Nuvola and Lupo. The hotel’s owners and guests were clearly fond of the dogs and they often featured them on Rigopiano’s social media pages. Thankfully, the mom and dad dogs managed to find their way out of the wreckage in the hours after the avalanche.

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“They just started barking very softly,” revealed Sonia Marini from the Forestry Corps, as she recalled the moment they found the tiny pooches. “It was hard to find them right away because they were hidden. Then we heard this very tiny bark and we saw them from a little hole the firefighters had opened in the wall. Then we expanded the hole and we pulled them out.”

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“We knew these dogs were there but we did not know where exactly,” another rescuer told BBC News. “When we understood where they were, we warned the firemen, who were allowed to enter the structure. We located them in the boiler room. Now the priority is to get them seen by a veterinarian, even if at first glance it seems that they are in very good health.”

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Not surprisingly, it seemed the dogs’ discovery boosted the rescue team’s moral. As they bundled the animals up and transported them to safety, the men had smiles of joy and relief. Certainly, it was a lighthearted moment in a week that had been fraught with death and destruction.

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Furthermore, the dogs’ discovery fueled hopes that the 22 people unaccounted for might still be alive. Everyone, however, knew the clock was ticking. “It’s a race against time,” fire service spokesperson Luca Cari said. “We know we need to go fast, but it’s not an easy working environment.”

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Sadly, the puppies turned out to be the last survivors pulled from the rubble of the avalanche. When the rescue mission closed just over a week after the disaster, officials confirmed that 29 people had died. The announcement came after fire fighters located the bodies of the final two missing people.

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In total, just 11 people survived the avalanche. Of them, nine were pulled from the hotel wreckage and two were found in a car. The survivors showed signs of hypothermia but, thankfully, none of them were seriously injured.

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In the days following the disaster, one survivor revealed that she had survived by eating ice. Others found themselves protected by an air bubble in the snow, which enabled them to breathe. Most impressive was the story of one nine-year-old boy, who kept other younger children distracted with songs from the movie Frozen.

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Although no one could have predicted the devastating earthquakes that caused the deadly avalanche, tremors in the Apennines are common. The mountains, in fact, sit on a number of faults – and in the five months prior to the avalanche, they experienced three magnitude-six quakes.

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That’s because of the range’s tectonics, which are slowly but surely pulling the peaks apart. Due to this force, a lot of stress is put on the faults that run through the mountains. Unfortunately, recent snowfall and additional tremors created a recipe for an avalanche disaster.

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In the week following the tragedy, Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni paid tribute to those involved in the rescue mission. “We are proud of our rescuers, they are exemplary Italian citizens,” he said. “The gratitude to the 11,000 people who have intervened to save lives must be strong and unanimous.”

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