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Italy. Five years after the Abruzzo disaster. The avalanche descended on the Rigopiano Hotel

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Five years have passed since the disastrous avalanche that struck the Hotel Rigopiano in the Italian region of Abruzzo. 29 people were killed, and the operation of recovering nine survivors lasted several days. It was one of the most tragic avalanches in Europe in recent times. The victims’ families are still waiting for court decisions regarding the tragedy.

On January 18, 2017, several severe seismic quakes occurred over a large area in central Italy. They were recorded, inter alia, in the Abruzzo region, over which intense blizzards passed. It was the worst snowfall in decades. Many roads were buried and impassable, including the one leading to the 4-star Hotel Rigopiano, located more than 1,200 meters above sea level in the municipality of Farindola in the province of Pescara.


Already in the morning of that day, the hotel staff asked the local services for help and to remove snow from the access road, because some guests wanted to leave because of the attack of winter. Some were ready to go. However, there was no snow plow, because it was directed to another blocked road.

The hotel was cut off from the world. There were 40 people inside. 28 guests, including four children and 12 staff members. There was great anxiety there after the seismic events.

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Hotel Rigopiano one week after the crash (photo taken on January 26, 2017)ALESSANDRO DI MEO / EPA / PAP

In the afternoon of that day a gigantic avalanche collapsed on the building, covering it almost completely. The heaps of snow are supposed to have been disturbed by the tremors. The moment the avalanche struck was seen by the two men who were outside at that moment: an employee and one of the guests. It was they who called for help.

The last person was saved after more than two days

The first phone calls to local services and authorities informing that the hotel collapsed were disregarded, among others due to the chaos that reigned in the region as a result of the earthquake and the winter attack. As the access road was blocked, the first rescue teams did not reach the crash site until night, wading and skiing through the snow. A dramatic fight for the lives of the buried people began.

The corpses and the survivors who survived in the cracks in the billiard room and in the bar by the fireplace were excavated from the ruins and from under the layers of snow. The last person alive was pulled out 58 hours after the avalanche broke down. Data from one of the victims’ cell phones revealed that she had lived for 40 hours. She died before help came.

Avalanche survivors: we were saved by the couch, we were eating ice

A family of four survived. Giampiero Parete was outside when the avalanche struck, and his wife and two young children survived under the rubble. “My children used to like snow, now they are afraid,” admitted Parete. His entire family had to undergo psychological therapy after the trauma.

The interior of the Rigopiano Hotel one year after the crash (photo from January 12, 2018)ALESSANDRO DI MEO / EPA / PAP

One of the rescued women spent over two days in the snow-strewn rubble of the hotel lobby next to the body of her fiancé. The search operation ended after eight days, on January 26.

Fight for justice

In the aftermath of the disaster, 30 people were investigated, including those who agreed to build a hotel at a risk of avalanches and were guilty of delaying snow removal from the access road and starting a rescue operation.

>> They warned that they might “come off the snow masses”. Nevertheless, a luxury hotel was built

The case has not been put on the list so far, and the proceedings are still protracted. On January 28, there will be another preliminary hearing of the court to decide on the prosecution of the suspects. Instead, according to the media, there will be another postponement with the parties presenting new expert opinions.

View of the hotel’s surroundings in 2011

The victims’ families tell the media on the anniversary of the tragedy that their fight for justice has been going on for five years. On Tuesday, they will meet at the crash site, where they will lay flowers. Rescuers from Abruzzo who took part in the search of the debris under the avalanche will also come. – It was a terrible experience that marked us all. What were the emotions when we managed to find people alive – recalled Daniele Perilli, the chief of rescuers from the mountain and speleological rescue service.

The area where the hotel stood, and where only a small part of its remains is located, was seized at the request of the court. Where the avalanche broke, there are still fragments of rock and broken trees.

Main photo source: ALESSANDRO DI MEO / EPA / PAP

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