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Italy avalanche death toll put at 29 as recovery bid ends

The final death toll from the devastating avalanche in Italy stands at 29 after the final bodies were pulled out of the rubble of a hotel crushed by tons of snow.

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

Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni acknowledged delays and "malfunctioning" in the initial rescue effort after local authorities brushed off the first alarms about the avalanche. But he told parliament on Wednesday that now was not the time to look for scapegoats.

Prosecutors said post-mortem examinations on the first six victims showed most died from the initial physical trauma of the hotel collapsing, with some also showing signs of hypothermia and asphyxiation.

AP

In his briefing to parliament, Mr Gentiloni stressed the unprecedented perfect storm that unfolded last week as more than 6ft (2m) of snow fell in 72 hours on the isolated hotel, followed by four powerful earthquakes that shook all of central Italy.

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 under way 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.

Mr Gentiloni told politicians that a criminal investigation is under way which would ascertain responsibilities.

AP

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