In Brief

Italy: 'Many dead' as avalanche strikes Abruzzo hotel

Rescuers race against time to rescue trapped guests after desperate 'We are freezing to death' text

Up to 30 people, including children, are missing after an avalanche struck a hotel in the mountains of Italy's central Abruzzo region last night.

At least 20 guests and seven staff were known to be in the Rigopiano hotel, but their fate remained unknown as rescuers battled freezing conditions through the night to try and access the remote lodge.

Rescue efforts have been hampered by snowstorms and drifts blocking the narrow mountain roads. The first responders arrived at the hotel on skis in the early hours of the morning, the BBC reports.

A couple trapped inside the Rigopiano sent a desperate text message reading: "Help, help, we are freezing to death," reports Corriere della Sera

Antonio Crocetta, chief of the local mountain rescue team, said: "We were calling but getting no answer. There are many deaths."

La Repubblica reports that the alarm was raised by two guests, who were in the hotel car park when the avalanche struck and escaped unscathed.

The chalet-style hotel lies in the heart of the mountains of the Gran Sasso national park, in the Abruzzo region, which was rocked by four earthquakes ranging from 5.2 to 5.7 magnitude on Wednesday. The shockwaves were reportedly so powerful they could be felt in Croatia.

In 2009, a 5.9-magnitude earthquake centred on L'Aquila in the Abruzzo region killed 308 people, making it the most deadly earthquake to strike Italy in almost 30 years, while last August, a 6.2-magnitude tremor followed by around 2,500 aftershocks killed 299 people in Lazio and Marche.

The high-profile disasters have led to widespread criticisms within Italy that the country's sub-par infrastructure and lax construction codes are leaving people vulnerable to natural disasters.

Franco Barberi, a senior official in Italy's civil protection agency, attributed the high death toll after the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake to a "lack of control on the quality of construction", Reuters reports.

He added: "In California, an earthquake like this one would not have killed a single person."

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