Rescue workers were astonished to find three sheepdog puppies alive under the remnants of Hotel Rigopiano in central Italy which was struck by an avalanche five days ago.

The discovery gave the Italian emergency crews hope of finding the 17 people who are still trapped underneath piles of rubble and snow.

Nine survivors were rescued on Friday 19 January after spending almost 60 hours trapped inside the building. 12 people are known to have died, local media reported in the morning of 24 January.

The hotel management sent an email on Monday (23 January) asking authorities for more assistance in their search.

A spokesman for the fire rescue service said: "It's a race against time, we know we need to go fast, but it's not an easy working environment."

The recovery of the three puppies raised the morale among rescue workers that some people may still be alive and found in time. Firefighter Fabio Jerman said the discovery was an "an important sign of life, which gives us hope".

The puppies' parents, Lupo and Nuvola (respectively meaning 'wolf' and 'cloud' in Italian) were found roaming through the streets of Villa Cupoli, a small suburb around 12km away from the hotel, on Friday 20 January.

Italy avalanche puppies rescued
The puppies have given rescue workers fresh hope that they may find more survivors Vigili del Fuco/Reuters