23 Jan 2017

Italy avalanche survivor ate snow

7:35 am on 23 January 2017

One of the survivors of the avalanche at Rigopiano hotel in central Italy says she ate ice and snow to quench her thirst during a 58-hour ordeal.

A rescuer at the Hotel Rigopiano.

A rescuer at the Hotel Rigopiano. Photo: AFP / Handout / CNSAS

Georgia Galassi, 22, is one of nine people to have been pulled from the rubble of the hotel alive. Rescuers say they are hopeful more survivors may be found from 24 still missing. Five bodies have been found.

Officials say the avalanche - weighing some 120,000 tons - hit the hotel with a speed of about 100km/h.

Bad weather has slowed rescuers.

The avalanche completely buried the hotel at about 5pm Wednesday (local time).

Many of the guests had gathered on the ground floor to await evacuation following earthquakes early that day.

Georgia, a student, was sitting on a coach in the lobby of the hotel with her fiance, Vincenzo Forti, 25, when the avalanche hit.

"Everything crumbled and I could not understand a thing," she told Italy's Corriere della Sera.

When she came round, she realised that the lobby had turned into a dome with four caverns.

She thought the hotel had been displaced and planted deeper into the earth.

"It was pitch dark. Not a sound came from outside. Our voices echoed."

She heard a woman who called for her fiancé, and another man from Rome who had injured his arm and was in pain. A mother who had her boy with her hugged him close whilst calling out to locate her daughter.

"All the children behaved really well, I never heard them crying, " Georgia says.

She cried, however, many times.

And she was full of praise towards her fiancé, "who never had any doubt".

"He supported us all. Sometimes he would hum a song to soothe us."

Georgia told how they had had nothing to eat. "Nothing. The only thing we ate was ice. We had a lot and this kept us going."

"I lost count of time, and still haven't got it back. But I think it lasted two days, maybe a bit more," Georgia said. In all, she was trapped for 58 hours.

At 11am on Friday, a mechanical sound was heard, then human voices.

To which she replied: "I am Georgia, and I am alive."

"It was the most beautiful thing I've ever said."

Italy has seen a wave of damaging earthquakes in recent months. The Apennines region saw three magnitude six tremors between August and October.

It is believed that the geological stress is spread across a number of fault lines in Italy's mountain ranges - with recent earthquakes as the result.

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