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Rescue workers search around the Hotel Rigopiano in Farindola, central Italy, hit by an avalanche, in this undated picture released on January 22, 2017 provided by Alpine and Speleological Rescue Team. Soccorso Alpino Speleologico Lazio/Handout via REUTERS

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PENNE, Italy (Reuters) - Italian rescue workers have found the dead body of a man in the wreckage of the hotel in central Italy that was buried in an avalanche last week, the Italian fire service said on Sunday, with 23 people were still missing as the search operation continues.

"At Hotel Rigopiano, at 1645 CET, the fire brigade located the dead body of one of the missing people," the fire service said in a Tweet.

The death toll stands at six, with 23 people still missing, Paolo Molinari from the Civil Protection agency said.

Nine people, including four children, were pulled alive from the piles of rubble and snow on Saturday.

The luxury Hotel Rigopiano, located at the foot of a mountain chain in the central Italian region of Abruzzo, was hit on Wednesday by an avalanche caused by an earthquake.

An earlier statement from the national fire service said the number of people missing had risen to 24 after a rescued person said that a hotel employee, of Senegalese origin, was inside the building at the moment of the avalanche.

"Operations continue, both inside and outside the hotel, there is no change in the numbers (of saved and dead people)," fire brigade spokesman Luca Cari said later.

An official from the national protection agency told reporters that efforts were being made to find alternative routes into the hotel.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said on Sunday his government would work to find ways to give the national bodies involved in emergency and reconstruction operations more power.

"We must be faster, and to do so we have to give more effective powers," he said in an interview on state television RAI, adding that these operations could not be dragged down by bureaucracy. He said the government had to find a way to fight against delays and corruption.

EATING SNOW

Survivors said they ate snow, some dirty, to quench their thirst as they spent days in the dark, trapped in narrow corners of the hotel's rooms after walls and ceilings had collapsed.

Nine of the 11 survivors are still hospitalised in the nearby city of Pescara, with some of them expected to leave hospital as soon as Monday.

Some rescue workers said they did not rule out finding more survivors, almost four days after the disaster.

Emanuele Cherubini, a helicopter paramedic, told Reuters that the hotel "is full of places to shelter in ... so if someone had the good fortune to find one of those places with an air pocket..."

He said saving three children was a very moving experience.

Major Marco Amoriello said rescue efforts were continuing, despite the difficult weather conditions and forecasts which were "not looking good".

"We certainly won't be stopping because of that," Amoriello said.

Around 120,000 tonnes of snow, the equivalent of about 4,000 lorries, covered much of what was left of the hotel, a rescue official told Sky TG24 TV.

"Thank you for being close, and for the real help you are bringing," said Pope Francis on Sunday at his weekly Angelus audience, referring to those involved in the rescue and relief operations and asking people to pray for them and the families of the victims.

Towns in the snowbound region of Abruzzo, one of the areas devastated by the deadly earth tremors of recent months, are now suffering from the poor weather, with thousands of people still without electricity and phone connections.

(Reporting by Antonio Denti in Penne and Giulia Segreti in Milan; Editing by Greg Mahlich and Jane Merriman)

Reuters