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Final Death Toll for Italy Avalanche Reaches 29

An earthquake-induced avalanche that buried a hotel in central Italy last week has killed a total of 29 people according to latest reports.

The natural disaster capped a string of catastrophes to inflict the Italian peninsula after ten serious earthquakes struck in succession over a four-hour period on January 18. During days of intense rescue efforts, more than a thousand volunteers and local civil service personnel were able to extract 11 survivors from the Rigopiano hotel, which had been displaced more than 30 feet by the force of the snow.

The last two corpses were removed from the rubble around midnight Thursday morning and rescue teams are convinced they have now accounted for all of the persons present when the disaster hit.

The Central Director of the Fire Department emergencies, Giuseppe Romano, said that the work done by firefighters and other rescue workers was “among the most complex we have ever managed: the collapse of a four-storey building in an avalanche in an earthquake scenario, with the inability to reach both by land and by air, and with communications difficulties.”

“Fire fighters worked shifts of 25 or 26 hours, talking to survivors and letting them see the light of a torch,” Romano said.

Rescue efforts were severely impeded by falling snow, which had reached a depth of some six feet at the time of the avalanche, and ambulances and emergency vehicles could get no closer than five miles from the hotel. Volunteers and rescue personnel ended up using skis and snowshoes to access the isolated hotel.

Italy has been plagued by natural disasters since a 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck central Italy last August, killing nearly 300 people.

In late October, the most forceful quake in decades hit the same region and could be felt clearly throughout a 100-mile radius, with reports of the quake’s effects as far north as the Veneto region and as far south as Apulia.

The town of Norcia, birthplace of Saint Benedict, the 6th-century founder of western monasticism, saw tremendous devastation from the 6.6 magnitude quake, and the Basilica bearing the Saint’s name was demolished.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter 

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