Death toll from avalanche in Italy officially 14, with 15 still missing

The death toll from an avalanche in central Italy climbed to 14 on Tuesday as hopes began to fade that any of the 15 people still missing might be found alive under a mountain resort buried by tons of snow and rubble.

Firefighters located half a dozen bodies within a few hours Tuesday, doubling the death toll six days after the disaster. Rescue crews had been buoyed by the discovery of three of the Hotel Rigopiano’s resident puppies, though they stressed that the sheepdogs were found in a boiler room far from where the missing were thought to be.

Firefighter spokesman Alberto Maiolo said search crews aided by excavators were finally able to penetrate the snow-covered central part of the hotel — the bar and kitchen area — for the first time and found the bodies. He said there were no signs of life.

“Logically, hopes fade as time passes, but we are continuing to search and trying to do it as quickly as possible,” he said.

The first funerals were held Tuesday, with crowds gathering under a steady rain outside the hilltop church in Farindola to pay their respects to Alessandro Gincaterino. The chief waiter at the hotel was among the first victims pulled from the rubble.

Prosecutors are investigating whether a series of missed communications, underestimations of risks and delays in responding to days of heavy snowfall contributed to the toll from the Jan. 18 avalanche. In addition, they are looking into the original construction of the isolated resort and whether it should have been open for business at all in such conditions.

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CBC | World News