Refugees join battle to reach avalanche victims

Published: 24 January 2017 16:43 CET

By Caroline Haga, IFRC

A group of refugees and asylum-seekers have joined Red Cross teams fighting to reach villages cut off by snow slides and an avalanche after earthquakes hit the Abruzzo region of Italy.

The ten young men from Senegal, Guinea, Gambia, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast were already known to the Italian Red Cross’s as volunteers and members of a programme to support asylum seekers and refugees, but arrived to join the emergency response. The group are working to free people and cars from snow, give out food and hot drinks and help set up a warehouse for emergency supplies.

Italian Red Cross president Francesco Rocca said: “We’re really grateful to the volunteers who came forward to help, this team spirit is the essence of our Red Cross work.

“In times of crisis, everyone pulls together - background doesn’t matter, it’s community that counts.”

Ten people saved from hotel

Red Cross search and rescue teams battled dangerous conditions to bring 14 people to safety,  including ten people trapped by a major avalanche that engulfed Hotel Rigopiano in Abruzzo’s Pescara province.

The avalanche buried the hotel, brought down part of its roof and shifted the building ten metres off its foundations.  Six people have been confirmed dead, including Gabriele D’Angelo – an off-duty Italian Red Cross volunteer who was working at the hotel.  It is believed 23 people are still missing and search and rescue efforts are ongoing.

Rocca said: “We have 1,000 volunteers out in the worst-hit areas and doing an incredible job in extremely difficult circumstances, particularly after losing such a valued friend and colleague in Gabriele.  Gabriele embodied the spirit of humanity and our thoughts are with his family and loved ones.”

Fighting to reach isolated communities

Italian Red Cross teams have been using sledges, snow mobiles, off-road vehicles and even skis to reach dozens of villages cut off by snow to provide medical care, food, blankets, clothes, snow shovels, generators and fuel.  Extra off-road vehicles are being brought in to help reach five villages that remain out of contact, even by phone.

Volunteers have also set up reception centres for people forced to leave their homes and are providing hot food.

The tremors on 18 January, measuring  at least 5 on the Richter scale, also affected places ravaged by a major quake in August which left more than 300 people dead.