Final bodies recovered from avalanche in Italy, death toll at 29

Italian Mountain Rescue Corps "Corpo Nazionale Soccorso Alpino e Speleologico" Soccorso Alpino volunteers and rescuers work in the area of the avalanche-struck Hotel Rigopiano, near Farindola, central Italy, Wednesday Jan. 25, 2017. (Corpo Nazionale Soccorso Alpino e Speleologico/via AP)

PENNE, Italy (AP) — The final death toll from Italy’s devastating avalanche stands at 29 after the remaining bodies were pulled out of the rubble of a hotel crushed by tons of snow, firefighters said Thursday.

Firefighters issued the update 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.

Premier Paolo Gentiloni acknowledged delays and “malfunctioning” in the initial rescue effort after local authorities brushed off the first alarms about the avalanche. But Gentiloni told parliament on Wednesday that now wasn’t the time to find scapegoats.

Prosecutors say that autopsies on the first six bodies examined showed most died from the initial physical trauma of the hotel collapsing, with some also showing signs of hypothermia and asphyxiation.

In his briefing to parliament, Gentiloni stressed the unprecedented perfect storm that unfolded last week as more than two meters (six feet) of snow fell within 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 underway 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.

Gentiloni told lawmakers a criminal investigation underway would ascertain responsibilities.

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