Fourteen people are now known to have died in an Italian hotel wrecked by an avalanche, as news emerged that the manager urgently called for assistance just hours before disaster struck.
In his email the manager said guests at the Rigopiano Hotel were “terrified,” roads blocked due to heavy snow, and phones out of service.
His call for help is now being examined by prosecutors investigating the disaster.
The Reuters news agency reported Tuesday that rescuers recovered five bodies — three men and two women — hours before the first funerals for those killed were due to be held.
This brought the death toll to 14, according to the national fire brigade, with 15 still missing. Eleven people have been rescued.
‘We ask you to intervene’
The four-star hotel at the foot of the Gran Sasso mountain about 135 kilometers (85 miles) northeast of Rome was buried in snow Wednesday after a series of earthquakes.
Bruno Di Tommaso, director of the hotel, sent an email to provincial authorities in Pescara — the main town in the area — plus the local police and the mayor of the nearby town of Farindola “after 2pm” Wednesday according to the Italian news agency ANSA.
Di Tommaso was not at the hotel at the time. The avalanche hit later that afternoon at around 4.30pm.
“We inform you that because of the recent events, the situation has become worrisome,” wrote Di Tommaso.
“In the district of Rigopiano there are about 2 meters of snow and in our property at the time there’s 12 occupied rooms (besides the staff).
“Diesel fuel to power the generator should be enough until tomorrow, when we hope that the supplier can make delivery.
“The phones are out of service. Customers are terrified by the earthquakes and have decided to stay outdoors. We tried to do everything possible to calm them but, unable to leave because of blocked roads, they are willing to spend the night in the car.
“With our shovels we were able to clean the driveway, from the gate to the SS42 (state road). Aware of the general difficulties, we ask you to intervene.”
According to ANSA, rescue teams had been working since 3am Wednesday to clear roads.
Prosecutors in Pescara have opened an investigation into the avalanche, according to the AFP news agency.
ANSA reported that investigators — who are looking into possible manslaughter charges — are examining Di Tommaso’s email.
Rescue efforts continue
Meanwhile, six days after the disaster, rescuers continue to hold out hope that there may be more survivors in air pockets.
The recovery of three live sheepdog puppies from under the rubble Monday gave renewed cause for optimism.
A video released by Italy’s fire and rescue service Tuesday showed rescue efforts continuing amid extreme conditions.
According to AFP, while new rescue routes have been dug, the search is proceeding slowly due to fears that the building could collapse further.
AFP also reported that a group of African asylum seekers joined the relief effort Saturday.
Young migrants originally from Senegal and Guinea had been volunteering with the Red Cross for the past two years and asked if they could “give a hand” according to Red Cross spokesman Ensa D’Alessandro.
In an interview with AFPTV, Barry Misbaou, 20, from Guinea, said: “We’re finding it difficult because we’re not used to the cold and we’re foreigners, but this is life and we have to do what we can because it’s good to help people, especially victims.”