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Avalanche buries Italy hotel, many feared dead or injured

An avalanche hit a popular mountain hotel in central Italy after a series of strong earthquakes had jolted the area, and up to 30 people might be buried under the snow, officials said on Wednesday.

"Around 30 people are unaccounted for, between guests and workers at the Hotel Rigopiano in Farindola," Fabrizio Curcio, head of Italy's civil protection department, told reporters.

Officials said it was too early to say if anyone might have died, with the rescue operation hampered by up to 5 metres (16.4 ft) of snow which has fallen on the Gran Sasso mountain range in the central Abruzzo region in recent days.

The avalanche collapsed part of the four-storey hotel, which is some 1,200 metres (4,000 ft) above sea level, and moved it some 10 metres (30 ft) according to media reports.

A wall of snow and debris hit the hotel on Wednesday evening, just hours after four strong earthquakes had shaken central Italy, sparking fears about possible avalanches.

Two men who were outside the building at the time of the disaster and raised the alarm.

"I am alive because I went to get something from my car," one of the two, Giampiero Parete, told medical staff, according to la Repubblica website.

An aerial shot of the hotel released by the fire brigade showed just the last floor and the roof visible above a thick blanket of snow.

Initial TV grabs showed that mounds of snow and debris had smashed through a hotel wall into the lobby.

Italian media had earlier reported that "many dead" had been found inside the hotel. However officials in the area rejected the report.