Rescuers have located ten survivors, including children, in a ski hotel two days after it was buried by an avalanche near an earthquake-hit town of Penne in central Italy.
Speaking on Friday, Titti Postiglione, head of the Civil Protection's emergency department, said two of the survivors had already been pulled clear of the snow and debris which destroyed the isolated Hotel Rigopiano on the Gran Sasso mountain in the province of Pescara on Wednesday.
Rescuers were digging to free the remaining six people.
"Finding these people gives us further hope there are other survivors," Postiglione said.
Al Jazeera's Natacha Butler, reporting from Penne, said there was a lot of activity at the emergency base in the central Italian town.
"Rescue workers say they managed to speak to them. Now they are working to get them out of there," she said.
"The survivors are trapped under a collapsed structure of the hotel, possibly the roof. Helicopters are flying overhead and a stream of emergency vehicles are making their way to the rescue site to help this enormous operation."
The group was found in the hotel kitchen area which was not crushed by the tonnes of snow that obliterated much of the four-storey building, media said
Helicopters have been dispatched with equipment and doctors to help extract and evacuate the survivors.
The disaster struck the hotel in the Gran Sasso park late on Wednesday afternoon amid a driving snowstorm, just hours after four earthquakes with a magnitude above 5 rattled the area.
As much as five metres of snow covered much of what is left of the hotel, said Walter Milan, a member of the Alpine Rescue service, who was on the scene. Only sections of the spa and swimming area were intact, he said.
An investigation into the tragedy has been opened by a court in Pescara amid accusations that the emergency response was slow. The first rescuers arrived amid a snow storm on skis early on Thursday morning, some 11 hours after the avalanche.
Giampiero Parete, a chef, who was a guest in the hotel, had gone to his car to get headache pills for his wife when the avalanche struck. His wife and two children, aged six and eight, are still missing.
Parete called his boss, Quintino Marcella, on his mobile phone at 5:40pm on Wednesday, just after the avalanche struck, asking him to call for help.
"He told me: 'The hotel has collapsed'" Marcella said in an interview with RAI state TV, adding that the local prefecture did not immediately believe him. He kept calling until he was assured help was on the way some two hours later.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies