An avalanche was sparked by the collapse of the largest glacier in the Italian Alps. A large chunk of Alpine glacier broke loose Sunday afternoon and slid down a mountainside in Italy, sending ice, snow, and rock slamming into hikers on a popular trail on the peak killing at least five and injuring eight, authorities said.
“There are five dead among the people hit by the detachment of the serac,” the emergency service’s tweet said, referring to a technical term for a pinnacle of a glacier. The SUEM dispatch service, which is based in the nearby Veneto region, said 18 people who were above the area where the ice struck will be evacuated by the Alpine rescue corps. “A breaking away of rock provoked the opening of a crevasse on the glacier, leaving about 15 people involved,” the emergency dispatchers tweeted.
Sixteen people were estimated to still be missing on Monday as authorities said they did not know the total number of climbers hit when the glacier collapsed the previous day on Marmolada, the highest mountain in the Italian Dolomites. The avalanche is thought to have swept away two rope teams of six people each, plus their guides.
The disaster struck one day after a record high temperature of 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) was recorded at the glacier’s summit. “We hear[d] a loud sound, typical of a landslide, then we saw an avalanche of snow and ice shoot down towards the valley and we knew something very serious had happened,” one of the managers of Rifugio Castiglioni, a mountain hut 3km (1.9 miles) from the site of the disaster, told a news agency.
Carlo Budel, manager of the nearby Capanna Penia, said a catastrophe of similar proportions had not been recorded before. “A glacier that collapses in [a] block, without any signs of instability or sliding, has no precedent on the Dolomites and in the entire alpine range,” Budel told the newspaper.
Four of the six victims have so far been identified. Authorities said three of them were Italian citizens while a fourth was a Czech national. Among the missing are Italian, German, Czech, and Romanian nationals, as per the reports.
Search operations continued throughout the night with the help of drones equipped with infrared heat-seeking cameras. Trento’s Alpine Rescue said the situation on the mountain remains perilous due to the likelihood of new avalanches. Local authorities have deployed the DaisyBell system, which causes precise blasts for the programmed release of avalanches to lessen the risk for rescuers.
An inquiry has been opened to ascertain what caused the disaster. The team of investigators said in a statement to a news agency the accident was an “unthinkable carnage”. According to a March report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), melting ice and snow is one of 10 major threats caused by global warming, disrupting ecosystems and infrastructure. The IPCC has said 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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