Rome A large section of an alpine glacier broke off Sunday afternoon and slid down a hill in Italy, killing at least six people and eight when snow, ice and rock hit pedestrians on a popular route, officials said. were injured.
The online edition of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera quoted civil protection officer Gianpaolo Bottassin as saying that around 10 people could be missing. But Bottasin later told state television that it was not possible to give a definite number so far.
The glacier in the Marmolada range is the largest of the Dolomite Mountains in northeastern Italy and people ski there in winter. But glaciers are melting rapidly in recent years.
Experts from Italy’s state-run CNR Research Center with the Institute of Polar Sciences say the glacier will no longer exist in the next 25-30 years and that much of its volume has already been lost. The Mediterranean basin, shared by southern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, has been identified by UN experts as a “climate change hot spot” likely to suffer from heat waves and water shortages, among other consequences. Is.
As of Sunday evening, officials were still working to determine how many pedestrians were in that area at the time of the snow avalanche, said National Alpine Rescue Team spokesman Walter Milan, who provided the number of deaths and injuries.
Milan told The Associated Press by telephone that rescuers were checking license plates in parking lots to determine how many people might be unaccounted for, a process that could have taken hours.
“We saw dead (people) and ice, huge pieces of rock,” weary-looking rescuer Luigi Felicetti told Italian state TV.
The nationality or age of the dead were not immediately available, Milan said. The condition of two of the eight people admitted to the hospital is critical, officials said.
The fast-moving avalanche “came down with a roar that could be heard over a great distance,” local online media site ildolomiti.it said.
Earlier, the National Alpine and Cave Rescue Corps tweeted that at least five helicopters and rescue dogs were involved in a search of the area comprising Marmolada Peak.
Temporarily, the search for any more victims or missing was halted while rescue teams assess the risk that more glaciers could break, after Walter Caneley conducted the rescue operation with a search dog, told state television. Told.
Rescuers said snowflakes were falling continuously. In the evening it started raining lightly.
The SUEM dispatch service, which is based in the nearby Veneto region, said 18 people who were above the area where the snow hit would be evacuated by alpine rescuers.
But Milan said some people on the slopes may be able to descend on their own, including using the cable car to the peak.
SUEM said the avalanche involved “fall of snow, ice and rock”. The separated section is known as a serac, or summit of ice.
Marmolada, at about 3,300 meters (about 11,000 ft) high, is the highest peak in the Eastern Dolomites, offering spectacular views of other alpine peaks.
The Alpine Rescue Service said in a tweet that the section broke off near Punta Rocca (Rock Point), “with the itinerary normally used to reach the peak.”
It was not immediately clear what caused some of the ice to break off and move down the slope of the peak. But a severe heat wave in Italy from late June could be a factor.
“These days’ temperatures clearly had an effect” on the glacier’s partial collapse, Maurizio Fugatti, president of the province of Trento, which borders Marmolada, told Sky TG24 news.
But Milan insisted that the high heat, which rose unusually above 10 C (50 F) on Marmolada’s peak in recent days, was only a possible factor in Sunday’s tragedy.
“There are many factors that could be involved,” Milan said. Avalanches in general cannot be predicted, he said, and the effect of heat on glaciers is “even more impossible to predict.”
In separate comments to Italian state television, Milan called the recent temperatures “extremely hot” for the extreme. “Obviously this is something unusual.”
According to rescue services, the injured were taken to several hospitals in the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto.