Last Wednesday, central Italy was hit by quakes ranging from 5.1 to 5.7 magnitude, which triggered a massive avalanche in Abruzzo region. The avalanche, weighing approximately 120,000 tons, hit the luxury Rigopiano hotel with a speed of 100 km/h and as a result the hotel has been moved away from its foundations for about 10 meters. It has been reported that over 30 people were buried in the hotel or its close vicinity. Recent updates from the local authorities state that nine people have been rescued and six bodies have been found so far. Despite deteriorating weather conditions and slim chances of finding someone still alive, rescuers continue the search for 23 missing people.
Could the disaster be avoided? Seismologists claim the early detection of earthquakes is very difficult, especially done far ahead in time. In case of avalanche warning services, there exists a scale, which describes the possibility of an avalanche occurrence. Such information is available at European Avalanche Warning Services website (www.avalanches.org). For the region of Abruzzo, the bad luck was that after intensive period of snowfall, there came an earthquake.
While discussing the topic, it is important to mention available tools, which are to facilitate the rescue actions and improve the detection of people buried under snow. Among the essential tools are the avalanche cords, beacons (avalanche transceivers), and probes. More advanced system used by rescuers is the Recco system. The two-part system relies on detectors, which are operated by rescue teams. The detectors send a search signal. The other component of the system is the reflector, which is worn by skiers and people going into the mountains. Such devices reflect the signal from detectors and, therefore help in localizing people under snow.
Nevertheless, in case of the tragedy in Italy, rescuers have to depend on more traditional measures during the rescue mission due to the scale of the event. The figure below illustrates the process of rescue mission in this particular case.