Italy avalanche: Hotel search ends with 29 dead, 11 rescued

By Laura Smith-Spark and Hada Messia CNN

ROME (CNN) -- Rescuers are no longer searching for anyone else in the wreckage of a hotel engulfed by an avalanche last week, Italy's Civil Protection Department said Thursday, leaving the final death toll at 29.

Confirmation that the arduous rescue and recovery operation was over came shortly after Italy's National Fire Brigade tweeted that two more bodies had been found.

A total of 11 people were rescued from the Hotel Rigopiano, nine of them pulled from air pockets in the snow-covered wreckage of the hotel in the days after the avalanche. The other two were found sheltering in a car outside the hotel in the hours after the snow came crashing down.

At least four children were among those plucked alive from the ruined building amid emotional scenes.

Rescuers braved difficult weather conditions and the risk of further avalanches as they sought to find more survivors.

The four-star spa hotel at the foot of the Gran Sasso mountain, about 135 kilometers (85 miles) northeast of Rome, was buried in snow January 18 after a series of earthquakes in the region earlier in the day.

News reports emerged Tuesday that the hotel's director urgently called for assistance just hours before the avalanche came rushing down the mountain last week.

In an email to local officials, the director said guests were "terrified," roads were blocked due to heavy snow and phones were out of service.

Prosecutors are examining his call for help.

Fire brigade spokesman Luca Cari told CNN on Saturday that all known survivors had been rescued from the hotel site but efforts continued to find those still missing and any other air pockets where they might be sheltering.

Three sheepdog puppies were discovered alive under the rubble Monday, sparking renewed optimism.

A video released by Italy's fire and rescue service Tuesday showed efforts still underway despite extreme conditions.

CNN's Hada Messia reported from Rome and Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. CNN's Simon Cullen, Barbie Latza Nadeau and John Fiegener contributed to this report.

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