Rescuers warned Monday that hopes of finding survivors are dwindling after an avalanche triggered by the collapse of an Italian glacier At least seven people died during a heat wave.
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. Ice and rock thundered down the slope at 185 miles per hour, according to Maurizio Fugatti, Trento’s provincial chief.
On Monday, rescuers armed with thermal drones searched for body heat from potential survivors trapped in the ice. But the chances of finding more survivors are now “low to zero” because too much time has probably passed since the deadly avalanche, Giorgio Gajer, head of the regional alpine rescue service, told news agency AGI.
Rescuer Gino Comelli, who spoke to the outlet after six bodies were recovered from the mountain, said those found were “torn apart” as a result of the tragedy.
The death toll rose as search and rescue missions progressed in the Marmolada on Monday. Fugatti confirmed seven deaths by late afternoon, while eight people were injured and at least 14 others were missing, according to AGI, according to AGI. Two of the wounded hikers were reportedly found in critical condition and only three of the deceased could be immediately identified. It was not yet clear how many people were caught by the avalanche Reports of missing persons flowed on all day.
The disaster came a day after a record 50-degree Fahrenheit temperature was recorded at the summit of the glacier, which is 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 left unattended in a parking lot near the mountain.
But Canova urged caution, saying the total number of climbers involved was “not yet known”. At that time, eight people were reportedly rescued with injuries.
The bodies, freed from the ice and rock, were taken to the village of Canazei, where Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi traveled on Monday to speak about the avalanche. 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 the Corriere della Sera newspaper. “There was a dull sound, 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 down and hugged tightly as the ice rolled by.”
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 block of ice 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 the IPCC, glaciers in Scandinavia, Central Europe and the Caucasus could lose between 60 and 80% of their mass by the end of the century.