By Fanny CARRIER
Rome (AFP) Jan 25, 2017
In the anxious days since an avalanche engulfed the Hotel Rigopiano in Italy on January 18, wrenching scenes and heart-stirring strokes of luck have riveted the country.
The death toll hit 25 on Wednesday, with four people still missing.
- Braving the storm -
Central Italy was the scene of chaos after the region was struck by record snowfall and four magnitude five earthquakes in the space of four hours on January 18.
About three hours later, an avalanche slams into the Rigopiano on the eastern slopes of Monte Gran Sasso.
Alpine rescue crews are mobilised in nearby Farindola at around 7:00 pm, but the winding eight-kilometre (five-mile) road to the resort is blocked by about two meters (6.5 feet) of snow.
Pushing through the falling snow on skis, the first rescuers arrive at about 4:00 am, only to find complete devastation: One rescuer says the hotel, buried by an avalanche that hit with the force of 4,000 trucks, "no longer exists".
On January 19, a snowplow is finally able to clear the road to the site.
- A family spared -
Giampiero Parete, 38, leaves to get some pills for his wife from the car and sees the hotel collapse under an "enormous wave of snow and half the mountain."
Left inside are his wife, Adriana, and two children; Gianfilippo, 7, and Ludovica, 6. After trying in vain to dig into the hotel, he returns to his car to wait with a hotel employee who also survived.
Hospitalised with mild hypothermia about 50 kilometres away in Pescara, Parete loses hope of ever seeing his family again.
But on the morning of January 20, Adriana and Gianfilippo are pulled unharmed from the rubble. Ludovica, trapped in a nearby room, is rescued a few hours later.
- 'Sang them songs' -
When the avalanche struck, Ludovica was playing in the hotel's games room with two other children, Edoardo Di Carlo, 9, and Samuel Di Michelangelo, 7.
According to psychologists quoted in Italian daily La Repubblica, Edoardo held the two other children during the 48-hour ordeal, singing them songs or parts of "Frozen," Ludovica's favourite cartoon.
Finding them boosted the hopes of the rescue workers, who had found only bodies in the aftermath of recent earthquakes throughout Italy.
"For us, these angels outweigh all the deaths," one worker said.
At hospital, Edoardo learned that his parents had died in the hotel. But the boy, who will now be taken care of by his older brothers, aged 17 and 19, asked if he could stay in the hospital with Samuel, whose parents are still missing.
On Tuesday, the two boys, fans of Juventus football club, got a call from Paulo Dybala, the team's Argentine striker, who invited them to visit in Turin.
- Fallen heroes -
On Tuesday, a helicopter is sent to rescue a skier who had broken two bones in his leg at Campo Felice ski resort 120 kilometres east of Rome, close to the region struck by the quakes and avalanche.
But the helicopter crashes, killing all six onboard, including two members of the emergency team at the Hotel Rigopiano: Walter Bucci, 57, a doctor, and Davide De Carolis, 40, a rescue worker.
Writing on Facebook, fellow rescuer and friend Roby De Paolis recalled how in the days leading up to the crash, he had worked with De Carolis on a team that dug through the night to follow the voice of a trapped survivor at the avalanche hotel.
"After seven hours of frantic efforts, we got him out, to the applause of all."
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