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Firefighters hold three puppies that were found alive in the rubble of the avalanche-hit Hotel Rigopiano, near Farindola, central Italy, Monday, Jan. 22, 2017. Emergency crews digging into an avalanche-slammed hotel were cheered Monday by the discovery of three puppies who had survived for days under tons of snow, giving them new hope for the 23 people still missing in the disaster. (Italian Firefighters via AP)

3 puppies were found alive after Italy's avalanche, giving rescuers hope of more survivors


Three sheepdog puppies were pulled from the rubble of the Hotel Rigopiano ski resort in central Italy on Monday, giving emergency crews hope as they continue their search for 22 people still missing five days after a devastating avalanche. 

Another body was located as well, bringing the death toll to seven. In addition, the first survivors were released from the hospital. 

Emergency crews happily carried the three sheepdog puppies from the hotel and a firefighter gave one of the fluffy white pups a kiss. 

The puppies were born to the hotel's resident sheepdogs, Nuvola and Lupo, last month. The pups' parents found their way out of the avalanche by Wednesday afternoon. 

"They just started barking very softly," said Sonia Marini, a member of the Forestry Corps. "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."

Luca Cari, a firefighter spokesman, emphasized that the puppies were found in an isolated part of the hotel, so their rescue may not signal hope for finding human survivors. 

"We're happy to have saved them, and these are important moments in a dramatic situation," he added. "But I don't think there's much correlation with finding other people."

Still, emergency crews are holding out hope that the 22 missing people are in air pockets under the debris. Officials said that way, the snow would insulate them. 

One adult and two children remain in the hospital. 

Investigators are still working to determine whether the local government underestimated the threat facing the hotel, which was covered in six feet of snow. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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