- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 24, 2017

FARINDOLA, Italy (AP) — The death toll from an avalanche in central Italy climbed to 14 on Tuesday as hopes began to fade that any of the 15 people still missing might be found alive under a mountain resort buried by tons of snow and rubble.

Firefighters located half a dozen bodies within a few hours Tuesday, doubling the death toll six days after the disaster. Rescue crews had been buoyed by the discovery of three of the Hotel Rigopiano’s resident puppies, though they stressed that the sheepdogs were found in a boiler room far from where the missing were thought to be.

Firefighter spokesman Alberto Maiolo said search crews aided by excavators were finally able to penetrate the snow-covered central part of the hotel for the first time — the bar and kitchen area — and found the bodies. He said there were no signs of life.

“Logically, hopes fade as time passes, but we are continuing to search and trying to do it as quickly as possible,” he said.

The first funerals were held Tuesday, with crowds gathering under a steady rain outside the hilltop church in Farindola to pay their respects to Alessandro Gincaterino.

The chief waiter, one of the first victims pulled from the rubble, had offered to stay for a double shift on Jan. 18 to spare a colleague from having to make his way to the hotel through the snow, which was two to three meters (six to nine feet) high in some places.

“He was a great hard worker. He was very professional,” said his brother, Massimiliano Giancaterino. “This is the memory that I want to keep of my brother, beyond obviously the private ones that I keep in my heart.”

Prosecutors are investigating whether a series of missed communications, underestimations of risks and delays in responding to days of heavy snowfall contributed to the toll from the Jan. 18 avalanche. In addition, they are looking into the original construction of the isolated resort and whether it should have been open for business at all in such conditions.

Giancaterino, who is also the former mayor of Farindola, said it was useless to speculate now about whether the tragedy could have been avoided while an investigation was just beginning.

“Now it is not the time for hypothesis,” he said. “It is the time of pain and above all my thoughts go to the friends and relatives of those who are still missing,” he said.

Nine people were pulled out alive from the rubble, three of whom remained hospitalized in nearby Pescara.

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