Buoyed by rescues from the luxury Hotel Rigopiano on Friday, more than two days after the avalanche there, search crews were intensifying their round-the-clock operation, fighting deteriorating weather conditions including fresh snowfall and freezing temperatures, reports the AP. Five people have been confirmed killed, including two hotel waiters, while nine, including four children who had been on family vacations, have been pulled alive from the reinforced concrete structure buried beneath as many as 26 feet of snow Wednesday. "The research is difficult also because the site is in a precarious equilibrium, that's why the interventions are made very carefully and why we cannot intervene with big machineries," said Titti Postiglione of Italy's civil protection agency. Instead, workers pushed ahead using saws, shovels, and gloved hands, listening for any sounds that might suggest survivors.
Postiglioni said the high number of people still missing was giving impetus to the search, which included sending sound-sensitive instruments down into snow-crusted debris. Rescuers passed crates full of chunks of hardened snow to colleagues as they tried to penetrate deeper into the wreckage, creating the rough equivalent of elevator shafts to allow searchers to descend into the smashed hotel. Snowfall higher than 10 feet thwarted the arrival of heavy equipment, leaving searchers to often rely on their hands or simple snow shovels to make progress. Maintenance worker Fabio Salzetta, whose sister is among the missing, has been advising crews on the hotel's layout and guests' possible locations. "In the end, they were calm. No one imagined that something like this could happen," Salzetta said. The last thing he remembers: "The snow. Everything snow." (Read more avalanche stories.)