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'Miracle under way' as rescuers pull out avalanche survivors

Rescue crews pulled survivors from the debris of an avalanche-crushed hotel in central Italy to cheers of "Bravo! Bravo!", boosting spirits two days after a massive snow slide buried some 30 people.

Four children were among the 10 people found alive - and one asked for biscuits when she got out.

The news buoyed rescue workers who had already located four bodies in the rubble of the luxury Hotel Rigopiano, 112 miles north east of Rome, where the avalanche dumped 16 and a half feet of snow on top of the resort.

"Today is a day of hope. There's a miracle under way," declared Ilario Lacchetta, mayor of the tiny town of Farindola, where the hotel is located.

Relatives of the missing rushed from the rescue operations centre in the mountains to the seaside hospital where the survivors were taken for treatment, hoping their loved ones were among the lucky few to be found.

First word of the discovery came at around 11am. Video released by rescuers showed a boy wearing blue snow trousers and a matching ski jacket emerging through a tunnel dug in the snow.

It was Gianfilippo Parete, the eight-year-old son of Giampiero Parete, a chef holidaying at the resort who had gone to his car when the avalanche struck and first sounded the alarm by calling his boss.

Emergency crews mussed the boy's hair in celebration. "Bravo! Bravo!" they cheered.

Next to emerge was his mother, Adriana Vranceanu, 43, wearing red snow trousers and appearing alert as she told rescuers that her six-year-old daughter, Ludovica, was still trapped inside.

Mother and son were helped to a stretcher for the helicopter ride out.

They were then reunited with Parete at a hospital in the coastal town of Pescara, suffering from hypothermia and dehydration but otherwise in good health, hospital officials said.

"They had heavy clothes," said Dr Rossano di Luzio. "They had ski caps to cover themselves. They remained away from the snow and cold, they were always inside the structure. That's why the hypothermia wasn't severe."

Ludovica was later rescued and asked for biscuits when she got out - Ringos, an Italian version of Oreos, said Quintino Marcella, the restaurant owner who rallied the rescue after getting the phone call from her father.

About 30 people were trapped inside the hotel in the Gran Sasso mountain range when the avalanche hit on Wednesday after days of winter storms.

The region was also rocked by four earthquakes on Wednesday, though it was not clear if they set off the avalanche.

As the rescue work continued, relatives of the missing gathered anxiously at the Pescara hospital waiting for word of their loved ones.

The number of survivors found and pulled out evolved over the course of the day.

"We found five people alive. We're pulling them out. Send us a helicopter," a rescuer was heard saying over a firefighters' radio as Associated Press reporters made their way on foot to the site of the disaster.

Late Friday, civil protection chief Fabrizio Cari said a total of 10 people had been found alive, five had been pulled out, including four children, and rescuers were working to remove the rest, he said.

"A beautiful feeling. Wonderful. I can't describe it!" said Simona Di Carlo, aunt of Edoardo Di Carlo, after hearing word that he was among the survivors. "But I would like to see him."

Rescue crews said one group of survivors was found in the hotel's kitchen area in an air pocket that formed when reinforced cement walls partially resisted the avalanche's violent power.

"It's probable that they realised the risk and took protective measures," firefighter Giuseppe Romano said.

Those being rescued were in remarkably good condition, rescue workers said. Titi Postiglione, operations chief of the civil protection agency, said survivors would help rescuers try to locate others trapped in the hotel.

Prosecutors opened a manslaughter investigation into the tragedy and were looking into whether the avalanche threat was taken seriously enough, and whether the hotel should have been evacuated earlier given the heavy snowfall and forecasts.

Parete, the survivor who sounded the alarm, said the guests had all checked out and were waiting for the road to be cleared so they could evacuate. But the snowplough never arrived and the avalanche hit at around 5.30pm on Wednesday.

Rescue workers have been clearing a 5.5-mile road to bring in heavier equipment, but the mountain road can handle only one-way traffic and is covered with snow and fallen trees and rocks.

Lacchetta, the Farindola mayor, said the hotel had 24 guests, four of them children, and 12 employees on site at the time of the avalanche.

AP

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