By Antonio Denti
PENNE, Italy (Reuters) - A total of nine people have been pulled alive from the rubble of a hotel demolished on Wednesday by an avalanche in central Italy, although officials said five have died and an estimated 23 more are still missing.
Fireman dug the survivors, including four children, from beneath tons of snow and debris at the Hotel Rigopiano on Friday and Saturday, moving cautiously for fear that air pockets left when it was razed by a tsunami of snow might collapse.
Police said they found one of the survivors and three of the victims in the dark by tracing their mobile phone signals.
One man's body was recovered on Saturday morning in the ruins of the four-storey hotel in a remote valley in the Abruzzo region, after those of two women were found overnight.
All nine survivors are in good condition in hospital in nearby Pescara, and only one required surgery, hospital director Rossano Di Luzio said.
Alberto Maiolo, a fireman working at the scene, said rescuers could hear noises from under the rubble and were trying to work out what was causing them. He said the number of people believed to be missing could change.
"We can hear noises and we hope they are due to people trying to alert us to where they are, but they are also caused by the snow melting, movement in the collapsed structure," Maiolo told SkyTG24 television.
Snow kept falling in sub-zero temperatures during the rescue operation in the Gran Sasso park, where the avalanche spread debris for hundreds of metres.
"The weather is really bad, it's been snowing since about 4 a.m," said Alpine emergency service worker Walter Milan.
Two people who were outside the hotel when the wall of snow struck were rescued on Thursday.
The avalanche came hours after a series of strong tremors struck the area, which was devastated by deadly quakes last year, and had been grappling with heavy snowfall.
Smaller tremors continued in the region on Saturday. Five registered at or above magnitude 3.0 but none reached 4.0, according to Italy's National Institute for Geophysics and Vulcanology (INGV).
Central Italy has trembled with more than 48,200 seismic events since a quake razed the town of Amatrice last August, killing 300 people, INGV said.
A further five people have been found dead elsewhere in the Abruzzo since the double blow of snow and quakes, the national civil protection agency said.
Rescue teams would continue to work night and day until everyone was accounted for, national fire service spokesman Luca Cari said.
(Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer; Writing by Isla Binnie; Editing by Toby Chopra and Alexander Smith)