January 24, 2017 / 9:10 AM / 3 years ago

Rescuers pull more bodies from Italian hotel ruins, protests in Rome

FARINDOLA, Italy (Reuters) - Rescuers pulled more bodies on Wednesday from the ruins of an Italian hotel which was flattened by a wall of snow last week, raising the death toll from the avalanche to 25.

A medical emergency helicopter is seen after crashing in a mountainous area near Campofelice, central Italy January 24, 2017. èlive video news/Handout via REUTERS

No one has been found alive since early Saturday and hopes of finding more survivors are fading.

Using pickaxes and mechanical diggers, the rescuers pulled seven bodies from the rubble. Four people are still missing after the Jan. 18 avalanche struck Hotel Rigopiano in the wake of heavy snow storms and a flurry of powerful earthquakes.

Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, speaking as people who lost homes and livelihoods in deadly quakes in the area last year protested in Rome, said he would launch an emergency decree next week and add to money already set aside for rebuilding.

His government has earmarked 4 billion euros in this year’s budget and Gentiloni said he had told Jean Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission which oversees national finances, that they would allocate more.

“It is up to us to make sure that once the disaster is past, further injustice is not created,” he told parliament.

He has said he wants to give more power to disaster management authorities and the earthquake response will require “billions more” euros, but has given no further details.

As the premier spoke, residents of quake-struck towns including Amatrice, where 300 people died last August, marched towards parliament to protest the handling of the crisis.

“No one has done anything,” protester Maria Domenica D’Annunzio said. “A thousand cows have died. The firemen had to take them away with cranes. There are all these abandoned farmers who are still living in caravans surrounded by 2.5 meters of snow.”

Eleven guests and hotel workers survived the avalanche in the Gran Sasso national park. Snow on the road had prevented many from leaving before the disaster struck.

Emergency services workers are still searching in the heart of the hotel, near its bar and reception, where they found several bodies in the space of a few hours, fire brigade spokesman Luca Cari said.

Prosecutors in nearby Pescara have opened an investigation which Gentiloni said would establish whether the emergency response had malfunctioned and if anyone was responsible for the tragedy.

“I share the desire to find the truth but I don’t share a certain desire which I see spreading, for scapegoats and avengers,” he said.

Additional reporting by Gabriele Pileri, Cristiano Corvino and Crispian Balmer in Rome; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Dominic Evans

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