Several hikers were killed in Italy when a glacier broke off the mountainside
A massive part of an Alpine glacier burst loose Sunday and rushed down a mountain in Italy, sending ice, snow and rock slamming into hikers on a popular trail on the summit and killing at least six and injuring nine, police said, warning that the toll would grow.
According to the Italian news agency ANSA, a local Civil Protection official named Gianpaolo Bottacin confirmed the death toll, adding that the situation was “evolving” and that as many as 15 people were still missing.
In late evening, the National Alpine and Cave Rescue Corps tweeted a phone number to call for family or friends in case of “failure to return from possible excursions” to the glacier.
Corp spokesman Walter Milan told The Associated Press over the phone that rescuers were scanning licence plates in the parking lot as part of checks to establish how many people might be unaccounted for.
There is a big glacier in the Marmolada range of the Dolomites in northeastern Italy, and it is popular with skiers during the winter months. But in recent years, the glacier has been retreating at an alarming rate.
Many polar scientists at Italy’s publicly funded CNR research centre agree that the glacier will be gone in 25–30 years.
The Mediterranean basin, shared by southern Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa, has been recognised by U.N. scientists as a “climate change hot spot,” expected to suffer heat waves and water shortages, among other consequences.
We saw dead (people) and large chunks of ice, rock,” an obviously weary rescuer named Luigi Felicetti told Italian state TV.
Nationalities or ages of the dead weren’t immediately available, Milan added.
Two of the hospitalised survivors were said to be in critical condition.
According to ildolomiti, a local internet media outlet, the avalanche “came down with a roar the could be heard at great distance.”
Temporarily, the search by helicopter and dogs for any more victims or missing was paused for the night as rescuers examined the potential that more of the glacier could break off, Walter Cainelli, after conducting a rescue mission with a search dog, said state television.
Rescuers claimed blocks of ice were continuing to crash down. In early evening, a gentle rain began to fall.
The Alpine rescue corps will remove 18 persons who were located above the location where the ice struck, according to the SUEM dispatch service based in the neighbouring Veneto province.
Some of those making the walk in the area where the avalanche barreled through were bound together by rope, according to local rescue services.
But Milan suggested some of the hikers might be able to go down by themselves, potentially by utilising the peak’s cable car.
A “pouring down of snow, ice and rock.” as described by SUEM. The detached part is know as a serac, or pinnacle of ice.
Marmolada, the “queen of the Dolomites,” is the tallest of the 18 peaks in this eastern range of the Italian Alps, rising to an elevation of over 3,300 metres (about 11,000 feet) and providing breathtaking panoramas of the surrounding mountains.
The Alpine rescue agency reported in a tweet that the part broke off around Punta Rocca (Rock Point), “along the itinerary normally used to reach the peak.”
It was unclear why the ice chunk had separated and was now hurtling down the mountainside. However, the heat wave that has been plaguing Italy since late June was a potential contributor.
The head of Trento Province, which borders Marmolada, Maurizio Fugatti, told Sky TG24 news, “The temperatures of these days clearly had influence” on the glacier’s partial disintegration.
However, Milan emphasised that the exceptionally high temperatures of the past few days—above 10 C (50 F) on the peak of Marmolada—were only one of many contributing factors to the catastrophe that occurred on Sunday.
There are “so many possible factors,” Milan remarked. To add to the unpredictability of avalanches, he said, the effect of heat on a glacier “is even more impossible to predict.”
Milan has described the current heat wave as “extreme heat” for the peak, in separate comments to Italian state media. “Clearly it’s something abnormal.”
According to rescue workers, the injured were transported by helicopter to many hospitals in the provinces of Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto.
As in other cases of calamities from nature in Italy, authorities started an investigation to examine whether there was any hint of suspected crime linked to the avalanche.