Rescuers warned on Monday that hopes of finding survivors were dwindling after an avalanche triggered by the collapse of an Italian glacier during a heatwave killed at least six people.
Authorities said they didn’t know how many climbers were hit when the glacier gave way on Sunday on Marmolada, the highest peak in Italy’s Dolomites.
According to Trento provincial chief Maurizio Fugatti, ice and rocks thundered down the slope at 300 kilometers per hour.
On Monday, rescuers armed with thermal drones searched for body heat from potential survivors trapped in the ice, though hope was quickly fading.
The chances of finding survivors are “low to zero,” Giorgio Gajer, head of the region’s alpine rescue service, told news agency AGI.
The six bodies recovered so far were found “torn”, said rescuer Gino Comelli.
The disaster came a day after a record temperature of 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) was recorded at the summit of the glacier, the largest in the Italian Alps.
The glacier has been weakened by decades of global warming, experts said.
Alpine Rescue spokeswoman Michela Canova told AFP that an “avalanche of snow, ice and rocks” hit an access route when there were several rope teams, “some of which were swept away”.
A spokesman for the province of Trento said people were still being reported missing.
Trento’s chief prosecutor Sandro Raimondi was quoted by Corriere della Sera as saying he feared the death toll “could double if not triple” based on the number of cars in the car park.
But Canova urged caution, saying the total number of climbers involved was “not yet known”. Eight people were injured.
– ‘Sea of Ice’ –
Bodies dug up from ice and rock were taken to the village of Canazei, where Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi was expected later Monday.
Helicopters and sniffer dogs were withdrawn as night fell and the glacier was feared it could still be unstable.
“It’s difficult for rescuers in a dangerous situation,” Canazei Mayor Giovanni Bernard told AFP.
Images of the avalanche, filmed from a nearby shelter, show snow and rocks cascading down the slopes of the mountain.
“It’s a miracle that we’re alive,” Stefano Dal Moro, an engineer who was traveling with his Israeli partner, told Corriere della Sera.
“There was a thump, then this sea of ice came down. There’s no point in running, you can only pray it doesn’t get in your way.
“We crouched and hugged tightly as the ice rolled by.”
– Heat ‘Beyond Normal’ –
Massimo Frezzotti, a science professor at Roma Tre University, told AFP the collapse was caused by unusually warm weather linked to global warming, with rainfall falling by 40 to 50 percent during a dry winter.
“Current glacier conditions correspond to mid-August, not early July,” he said.
Glacier specialist Renato Colucci told AGI that the phenomenon would “certainly repeat itself” because “high-altitude temperatures in the Alps have been well above normal for weeks”.
The recent warm temperatures have produced a large amount of water from the melting glacier, which has pooled at the bottom of the ice block and caused it to collapse, he added.
The Trento Public Prosecutor’s Office has launched an investigation to determine the causes of the tragedy.
According to a March report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), melting ice and snow is one of the top ten threats caused by global warming, disrupting ecosystems and infrastructure.
According to the IPCC, glaciers in Scandinavia, Central Europe and the Caucasus could lose between 60 and 80 percent of their mass by the end of the century.
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