Tons of snow and debris barreled down to the bottom of the Gran Sasso mountain in the Abruzzo region in Italy, leaving at least 14 people dead and 15 more missing.
Five days after the avalanche and amid the continued frenzied and frantic search for survivors Monday, rescue workers found the faintest glint of hope: three playful puppies hidden beneath the rubble.
Firefighter Fabio Jerman called it “an important sign of life, which gives us hope,” according to the Guardian.
The newspaper reported the Maremma sheepdog puppies had apparently survived in an air pocket at the hotel.
The puppies were born Dec. 4 to “Nuvola” and “Lupo,” two dogs that lived at Hotel Rigopiano and known by many visitors, according to Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata.
The Italian news service reported that after the avalanche, the adult dogs had been rescued, and a woman who had worked as a barista at Rigopiano and knew the dogs posted a photo of them on the hotel’s Facebook page.
“I don’t know how, but I managed to get back to my village outside Farindola safe and sound,” wrote Martina Rossi, according to ANSA. “This certainly cannot fill the emptiness and destruction that had brought the area to its knees yet still waiting for positive news. But these two beautiful dogs and looking at them has certainly managed to restore my heart, at least for a few seconds, bringing hope.”
One rescuer told BBC News that emergency workers knew the puppies were at the hotel but did not know where to find them.
“When we understood where they were,” the rescuer said, “we warned the firemen, who were allowed to enter the structure.”
Sonia Marini, a member of the Forestry Corps, told the Associated Press that firefighters then heard them “barking very softly.”
“In fact, it was hard to find them right away because they were hidden,” Marini said, according to the AP. “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.”
After the rescue, a video shows firefighters cradling and kissing the puppies, which were reported to be in good condition, as they carried them and loaded them into an emergency vehicle, according to the Local.
Although some people had said the puppies were seen a symbol of hope, firefighter spokesman Luca Cari told the Associated Press that it did not mean the first responders were more likely to find human survivors.
“We’re happy to have saved them, and these are important moments in a dramatic situation,” he told the news agency. “But I don’t think there’s much correlation with finding other people.”
Brian Murphy contributed to this story.