(CBS News) – Rescuers racing Thursday to reach people trapped in a spa hotel that was buried by an avalanche in central Italy’s Abruzzo region.
“There are many dead,” Antonio Crocetta, who heads up the alpine police force at the center of the rescue effort on the slopes of Gran Sasso mountain, told Italian media. There was no confirmation from other rescue or law enforcement officials of fatalities.
CBS News’ Costanza Barone says rescuers managed to reach Hotel Rigopiano on skis, as deep snow had cut off access by road.
According to Sky Italia, there were 22 guests and eight members of hotel staff in the building when the avalanche hit. There was no immediate word on the nationalities of the guests.
Sky Italia broadcast images of rescuers digging with shovels into a mound of snow — said to be about six feet deep — covering parts of the hotel to access the building.
One elderly man was seen being led out of the hotel — the first to be rescued — apparently unharmed.
Crocetta was quoted by French news agency AFP as saying the avalanche was triggered by the first of four earthquakes that jolted the region on Wednesday.
The spa hotel is in the town of Farindola, on the lower slopes of Gran Sasso in Abruzzo’s Pescara province.
Video from inside the building showed significant structural damage, with hallways filled with snow. CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey reported the weight of the snow appeared to have collapsed the roof down onto the ground floor in parts of the three-storey hotel.
Pizzey said the alarm was first raised by two survivors whom managed to get out of the buried building. Alpine rescue teams first reached the hotel at about 4 a.m. Thursday morning (10 p.m. Eastern, Wednesday).
Italy’s mountainous central region has been hit by a series of earthquakes since the summer.
The deadliest quake struck in August, killing close to 300 people. No one died in strong aftershocks in October, largely because towns and city centers had already been evacuated.