Emergency crews in Italy have rescued four more people from a hotel which was destroyed by an avalanche on Wednesday. In total, 11 people have been located alive but the whereabouts of many more remain unknown.
The four additional survivors were pulled out of the remains of the Hotel Rigopiano in central Italy overnight to Saturday, firefighters said.
They added that four bodies had also been located. The body of one man was also recovered on Saturday morning raising the known death toll to five, Reuters news agency reported, quoting fire service spokesman Luca Cari.
The Urban Search and Rescue unit wrote on its official Twitter page that two women and two men were rescued, bringing the number of people pulled out of the rubble so far to nine.
"USAR firefighters extracted two deceased women," the rescue workers added. Two other bodies had been found at the hotel on Thursday, the Civil Protection Department said.
The bodies have yet to be publically indentified, sparking anger and frustration among family and relatives as they try desperately to find out if their loved ones are among the dead or missing.
Based on accounts from survivors, around 23 people remain missing, although officials stressed that no exact figure was available.
The survivors included four children who were inside the hotel when the avalanche struck Wednesday afternoon. Five people had been pulled out on Thursday and Friday.
Two people who were outside the hotel at the time of the disaster were also counted among the 11 in total rescued. All survivors are currently being treated at a hospital in Pescara for hypothermia or other injuries.
One of them was Giampiero Parete, a chef vacationing with his family, who had escaped the building just before the avalanche struck and first sounded the alarm by calling his boss, the Associated Press reports.
He was reunited with his wife and two children Saturday. The three were among the first to be found and extracted by rescue crews.
"Thank you everyone from my heart," Parete wrote on Facebook. "Big hugs."
Painstaking rescue effort
As well as the heavy snow, the region has also had to contend with several strong earthquakes - though it has not been confirmed whether the earthquakes set off the avalanches.
The painstaking operation by mountain police, firefighters and other emergency responders has made slow progress because the rescuers were wary of triggering further movements in the snow which might cause buried air pockets to collapse.
The rescuers expressed hope of still being able to find more people alive in the ruins. Fire department spokesman Alberto Maiolo said rescuers had heard noises coming from under the debris, but it was unclear whether they were caused by survivors. "The noises could be the drip of snow melt, material shifting" or from survivors, he told local media.
Prosecutors have opened a manslaughter investigation to look into whether the threat of an avalanche was taken seriously enough and whether the hotel should have been evacuated sooner, given the heavy snowfall in the region.
On Friday, another five people who were reported missing following avalanches elsewhere in the Abruzzo region were found dead, the Civil Protection Department said.
se, dm/ (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)