Italian officials say all bodies recovered from avalanche site

The final death toll from Italy's devastating avalanche stands at 29 after the final bodies were pulled out of the rubble of a hotel crushed by tons of snow, firefighters said Thursday.

29 died from last week's disaster in Farindola, most from physical trauma

The coffin of Alessandro Giancaterino, one of the victims of the avalanche which buried the Hotel Rigopiano, is shoulder carried outside the San Nicola church during the funeral service in Farindola, central Italy on Tuesday. (Alessandro Di Meo/ANSA via AP)

The final death toll from Italy's devastating avalanche stands at 29 after the final bodies were pulled out of the rubble of a hotel crushed by tons of snow, firefighters said Thursday.

Firefighters issued the update after a week of search efforts at the isolated Hotel Rigopiano in Farindola, central Italy. Nine people were pulled out alive in the first days of the rescue.

Premier Paolo Gentiloni acknowledged delays and "malfunctioning" in the initial rescue effort after local authorities brushed off the first alarms about the avalanche. But Gentiloni told parliament on Wednesday that now wasn't the time to find scapegoats.

Prosecutors say that autopsies on the first six bodies examined showed most died from the initial physical trauma of the hotel collapsing, with some also showing signs of hypothermia and asphyxiation.

In his briefing to parliament, Gentiloni stressed the unprecedented perfect storm that unfolded last week as more than two metres of snow fell within 72 hours on the isolated hotel, followed by four powerful earthquakes that shook all of central Italy.

Vincenzo Forti, right, and Giorgia Galassi, two of the nine survivors of the avalanche that hit the Hotel Rigopiano last Wednesday, talked to the Associated Press in Giulianova, Italy on Wednesday. (Eldar Emric/The Associated Press)

The ensuing landslide and avalanche dumped upwards of 60,000 tons of snow, rocks and uprooted trees on top of the resort, burying the 40 people inside. Nine were pulled out alive, including all four children. Two people escaped and called for help, but the Pescara prefect's office brushed off the alarm thinking it was a joke and that the hotel was safe.

The rescue operation only got underway an hour or two later, and it took some eight hours for the first crews to reach the site, on foot, because the roads were impassable.

All 4 children survived

Gentiloni told lawmakers a criminal investigation underway would ascertain responsibilities.

A couple among the nine survivors told the Associated Press on Wednesday that they survived nearly 58 hours buried beneath feet of snow by sucking on glass- and mud-filled ice, comforting each other and those nearby, and praying. 

The initial shock was so loud and the force so strong that the couple, 22-year-old Giorgia Galassi and her boyfriend, 25-year-old Vincenzo Forti said they were convinced it was another earthquake rocking the area.

"It all started from a rumble," Forti told a news conference at a hotel later Wednesday. "And then everything collapsed. A roar, what can I say, a roar."

After the shock of finding themselves beneath a wicker chair that protected them from a beam, Galassi and Forti said the first relief was realizing they were not alone.

During the interminable wait for help, they spoke with Francesca Bronzi, one of the other survivors who was on the other side of the beam. Bronzi had a watch and helped them keep track of time. They could also hear a mother with her son nearby, who turned out to be Adriana Vranceanu and her eight-year-old son Gianfilippo, both of whom also survived.

The couple said they were relieved to hear all four children staying at the hotel had survived, but they are haunted by the deaths of so many of their companions, including Bronzi's boyfriend.

Galassi and Forti said they said they were scared but never gave up hope that they would survive. 

They had arrived at the luxury hotel the evening before the deadly avalanche.


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