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Italy avalanche toll hits 29 as search ends

This handout photo taken and released by the Corpo Nazionale Soccorso Alpino e Speleologico (CNSAS) on January 25, 2017, shows the site where the Hotel Rigopiano was engulfed by a powerful avalanche on January 18, near the village of Farindola. The number of bodies recovered from the ruins of an Italian hotel buried by an avalanche rose to 24 on January 25, 2017, local authorities said. Another five people were still unaccounted for, presumed dead, as a result of the January 18 disaster, which saw the Hotel Rigopiano ripped from its foundations by the force of a wall of tree and mud-packed snow hurtling down the hillside into which it was built. / AFP PHOTO / CNSAS AND AFP PHOTO / Lorenzo NATRELLA /

This handout photo taken and released by the Corpo Nazionale Soccorso Alpino e Speleologico (CNSAS) on January 25, 2017, shows the site where the Hotel Rigopiano was engulfed by a powerful avalanche on January 18, near the village of Farindola. The number of bodies recovered from the ruins of an Italian hotel buried by an avalanche rose to 24 on January 25, 2017, local authorities said. Another five people were still unaccounted for, presumed dead, as a result of the January 18 disaster, which saw the Hotel Rigopiano ripped from its foundations by the force of a wall of tree and mud-packed snow hurtling down the hillside into which it was built. / AFP PHOTO / CNSAS AND AFP PHOTO / Lorenzo NATRELLA /

Searchers have completed the grim hunt through the ruins of an Italian hotel buried by an avalanche and found the final bodies, bringing the toll to 29 dead, authorities said Thursday.

The hundreds of rescuers who aided in the searches after the January 18 disaster, which saw the Hotel Rigopiano ripped from its foundations by a wall of snow and debris, saved 11 people.

Locals authorities said in a brief statement that 29 bodies had been recovered.

Most of the dead were found in what was the hotel’s bar, embedded in a mass of snow, concrete and tree trunks, according to Italian media reports.

Police have calculated the force of the impact on the three-storey stone and wood structure as being equivalent to it being hit by 4,000 fully-loaded trucks.

The last survivors extracted from the rubble were pulled out on Saturday after having been located on Friday morning. They were all suffering from mild hypothermia.

When the avalanche hit, guests and staff had been waiting several hours for the road to be cleared of snow so that they could leave.

But the heavy snowfalls had plunged the area into chaos and the special road clearance machine that was needed — the snow was too deep for ploughs — was not available.

A preliminary manslaughter investigation has been opened with the prosecutor in charge looking into whether environmental risks were properly taken into account during the construction and subsequent renovation of the hotel.

Autopsies of the six first victims pulled from the debris concluded they had been crushed or suffocated by the avalanche and that none had died waiting for rescue, prosecutor Cristina Tedeschini told reporters on Wednesday.

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