Several people have died after a ski hotel was buried by an avalanche in earthquake-hit central Italy, according to Italian media.
“There are many dead,” Antonio Crocetta, the head of a group of Alpine police that was trying to reach the cut-off hotel, was quoted as saying on Thursday.
SkyTG24 television said some dead were found inside the Hotel Rigopiano in the town of Farindola on the Gran Sasso mountain in the province of Pescara in the Abruzzo region.
Media reports said there had been at least 20 guests and seven staff at the Hotel Rigopiano on the lower slopes of the Gran Sasso mountain when the first of four powerful quakes hit the region on Wednesday morning.
The rescuers at the hotel were reported to have a snow mobile capable of transporting up to eight people.
Ambulances were blocked by two metres of snow some nine kilometres away, according to the civil protection agency.
Antonio Di Marco, president of the province of Pescara, which includes the mountain village of Farindola, close to where the hotel is located, said two people had been found alive.
“We don’t know yet how many people are unaccounted for or dead,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
“What is certain is that the building took a direct hit from the avalanche, to the point that it was moved by 10 metres.”
It was not clear if the two confirmed survivors had been at the hotel or had been out skiing when the avalanche occurred.
One of them was helicoptered to a hospital in Pescara suffering from hypothermia but was not in a life-threatening condition.
The region was hit by four seismic shocks measuring above five magnitude in the space of four hours on Wednesday, when at least one person was confirmed to have died.
The hotel is located around 90 kilometres from the epicentre of the earthquakes at Montereale, a small village south of Amatrice, the town devasted in an August earthquake in which nearly 300 people died.
Avalanche warnings were issued across the region which is dominated by Gran Sasso, a majestic 2,912 metres peak. The area has numerous small ski resorts popular with day-trippers from Rome and urban centres on Italy’s east coast.