Offering a small dose of optimism during a grim situation, emergency services recovered three sheepdog puppies from under the snow and rubble of the Rigopiano hotel, which was destroyed by an avalanche in central Italy five days ago.
Raising fresh hopes that there could be more human survivors, the puppies were found found in an air pocket in the destroyed remains of the hotel's boiler room.
"They just started barking very softly," Sonia Marini, one of the emergency workers, told the Associated Press. "In fact, it was hard to find them right away because they were hidden. Then we heard this very tiny bark and we saw them from a little hole the firefighters had opened in the wall. Then we expanded the hole and we pulled them out."
Nine people survived the avalanche, but seven died and 23 are still missing after the mountainside hotel was engulfed by 16 feet of snow and more than 50,000 tonnes of snow and debris.
The puppies were born in December to Lupo and Nuvola, the two Abruzzo sheepdogs that lived at the hotel. Both escaped when the avalanche hit and were found the following day in a nearby hamlet.
Investigators in the nearby city of Pescara have begun an investigation into the disaster, which could lead to manslaughter charges if prosecutors find the hotel should not have been built in such an avalanche-prone area, or should have been evacuated.