With 14 people now dead after an avalanche wrecked an Italian hotel, news reports emerged that its director urgently called for assistance just hours before disaster struck last week.
In an email to local officials, the director said guests at the Rigopiano Hotel were “terrified,” roads were blocked due to heavy snow and phones were out of service.
Prosecutors investigating the disaster are now examining his call for help.
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.
The recovery brought the death toll to 14, according to Italy’s 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 mayor of nearby Farindola after 2 p.m. Wednesday, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.
Di Tommaso was not at the hotel at the time. The avalanche hit later around 4.30 p.m. Wednesday.
“We inform you that because of the recent events, the situation has become worrisome,” Di Tommaso wrote.
“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 3 a.m. Wednesday to clear roads.
Prosecutors in Pescara have opened an investigation into the avalanche, according to the Agence France-Presse news agency.
ANSA reported that investigators — who are looking into possible manslaughter charges — are examining Di Tommaso’s email.
Rescue efforts under extreme conditions
Meanwhile, six days after the disaster, rescuers continue to hold out hope of finding more survivors.
The discovery of three sheepdog puppies alive under the rubble Monday gave renewed cause for optimism.
A video released by Italy’s fire and rescue service Tuesday showed rescue efforts underway amid extreme conditions.
Walter Milan, spokesman for the elite National Alpine Cliff and Cave Rescue Corps, was one of the first on the scene.
“In some ways the conditions make it harder now because of ice and the real risk of a new avalanche,” Milan told CNN Tuesday.
“Of course, there is still hope of finding someone alive in an air pocket. There will be hope until the last body is accounted for. If someone is sheltering in a room with food and water, they could easily survive.”
Milan said the rescue teams are working longer shifts now “so those familiar with the scene and layout can use that familiarity.”
He said that finding the puppies alive “revitalized everyone” and “picked up the mood.”