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Drought-hit Mont Blanc is closing shelters to discourage hikers – Science-Environment News – Report by AFR

Authorities in the French Alps said on Friday they had closed two popular mountain huts used by Mont Blanc climbers over potentially deadly drought-related rockfalls.

In a year marked by drought and heat waves, rock falls and gaping crevices have made access to the summit of Mont Blanc, Western Europe’s highest mountain, even more difficult and dangerous.

The mayor’s office in the Mont Blanc village of Saint-Gervais said climbers are in “mortal danger” because of the dry weather causing rocks and shards to come loose and fall from great heights.

“All day long we still see climbers on the mountain range as if this were Disneyland or Parc Asterix,” said Saint-Gervais Mayor Jean-Marc Peillex, referring to two popular theme parks near Paris.

Hikers have been advised since last month to stay away because of the danger, but “they just don’t care,” he told AFP.

The closure of the two mountain huts Gouter with 120 overnight places and Tete Rousse with 74 and a base camp with up to 50 places should “clearly show that there is no accommodation”.

Authorities had been warning of falling rocks for weeks, he said, adding that crossing the Gouter Mountain Corridor posed “a danger to life”.

Despite this, 79 people remained at the Gouter shelter as of Thursday night, he said.

The shelters will remain closed until normal weather conditions return, the mayor said, likely not before early September.

Peillex had warned on Wednesday that Saint-Gervais would require bail of 15,000 euros ($15,200) from each hiker, saying the sum was equivalent to the average cost of a rescue operation and a funeral.

However, he was warned that French law provides no basis for such a move.

A lack of snow during the winter has exposed large areas of greyish glaciers – yellowish where sand dust from the Sahara has accumulated – torn by fractures on Mont Blanc.

The heat did the rest, melting the fragile snow bridges that allow crossing the crevasses and causing landslides.

After several heat waves, France is suffering from a severe drought, which scientists blame on climate change.

As of Friday, 100 communities across the country were without drinking water, Environment Minister Christophe Bechu said.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne described the drought as “historic” and called a crisis meeting on Friday to seek solutions.

Scientists say human-caused climate change is amplifying extreme weather — including the heat waves, droughts and floods seen in several parts of the planet in recent weeks — and saying these events are becoming more frequent and intense.

The international community agrees that climate change poses an existential threat to human systems and nature.

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