Rescuers listened for signs Saturday of any more survivors, three days after an avalanche slammed into a resort hotel in Italy's central Apennines mountains. Using saws, shovels and just gloved hands, they advanced slowly through the wreckage in hopes of locating some 23 guests and hotel workers still missing.
By Saturday morning, nine survivors had been pulled out of the snow-crusted debris of the Hotel Rigopiano and were recovering in the hospital. So far, the bodies of three men and two women, extracted by rescue workers, have yet to be publicly identified.
Firefighter spokesman Alberto Maiolo said noises were heard, but it was not immediately clear if they were caused by survivors still trapped under the tons of snow and building debris.
"The noises could be the drip of snow melt, material shifting" or from survivors, Maiolo told Sky TG24 TV.
He said, based on accounts by survivors and others, roughly 23 people were still missing from the avalanche that almost entirely buried the hotel near the famed Gran Sasso mountains. But he stressed that was just a "provisional list," and that no exact figure of the missing was available.
The search operation — including delicately poking holes into strategic parts of the snow-covered hotel -- continued nonstop throughout the night. Rescuers passed crates full of chunks of hardened snow and ice to colleagues as they tried to penetrate deeper into the wreckage.
On Saturday, four survivors who had been pinpointed on Friday were extracted, put on stretchers, and with helicopters and ambulances, rushed to a hospital in the Adriatic city of Pescara to be treated for hypothermia or other injuries. In addition, a fifth body was found.
At the hospital, anger and frustrations exploded as family members tried desperately to find out if their loved ones were among the dead or the missing in the tons of snow that had rushed down the mountainside.
One father who had been waiting since Wednesday evening for word of his son's fate erupted in front of television cameras, pointing angrily at the cars of local officials.
"What are they doing? They aren't doing anything. Why didn't they go get the kids out the night before the disaster?" the man yelled, referring to his son, Stefano Feniello, and his son's fiancée Francesca Bronzi, who was among those hospitalized.
The father did not give his name, but the Italian news agency ANSA identified him as Alessio Feniello. He said he had been told that his son had survived, but officials had supplied no clear information by midday Saturday, nearly three days after the tragedy.
"Why are they here, taking all the credit? They are disgusting. It is an outrage. I am waiting for three days for my son. They said that my son had been recovered but he hasn't arrived," the distraught father said.
The avalanche dumped five metres of snow on top of the resort, located 180 kilometres northeast of Rome. The region, which has been blanketed by heavy snowfall, was also rocked by four strong earthquakes on Wednesday, though it wasn't clear if they set off the avalanches.
Two people at the hotel narrowly escaped being trapped in the avalanche, including Giampiero Parete, who was vacationing with his family. Parete first sounded the alarm by phoning his boss. On Saturday, he was reunited with his wife, son and daughter after they were among the first to be located and extracted from the debris.
"Thank you everyone from my heart," Parete wrote on Facebook. "Big hugs."
In all, four children inside the hotel during the avalanche have been safely rescued and taken to Pescara hospital, where they were reported to be in good condition. But for two of the children, the fate of their parents is still unknown.
Nine-year-old Edoardo Di Carlo told rescuers he had gone into the billiards room to play when he was trapped by the avalanche. Three of the children had been together in the disaster.
When the rescuers, eager for details that might aid further rescues, gently asked him if there were other people near him, including grown-ups, the boy replied: "Only the mamma of another child." He sounded weary, and the rescuers quickly encouraged him, saying, "Bravissimo!"
The four children and five rescued adults were being treated at the hospital Saturday, included one person who underwent surgery for an upper arm compression injury, said Dr. Rossano di Luzio, a physician at the hospital.
"Their state of mind is that of someone who has suffered a drama and who was in a truly precarious position for many hours," he said of the children.
All the patients were being given psychological assistance and had family members near them throughout the night, di Luzio said.
Prosecutors have opened an investigation for possible manslaughter. They want to know if the avalanche threat was taken seriously enough by officials and whether the hotel should have been evacuated earlier, given the heavy snowfall and forecasts.
Parete, who sounded the alarm, said the guests had all checked out and were waiting for the road to be cleared so they could leave. But the snowplow never arrived and the avalanche hit around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.