Rescuers warned Monday that hopes of finding survivors are dwindling after an avalanche triggered by the collapse of an Italian glacier during a heat wave killed at least six people.
Authorities said they did not know how many climbers were caught when the glacier retreated Sunday on Marmolada, the highest mountain in Italy’s Dolomites.
Ice and rocks rumbled down the slope at 300 kilometers per hour (185 mph), according to Trento provincial governor Maurizio Fugatti.
On Monday, rescuers armed with thermal drones searched for the warmth of the bodies of would-be survivors trapped in the ice, though hope was quickly fading.
The chances of finding survivors are “zero,” Giorgio Gaier, head of the regional rescue service, told AGI.
According to rescuer Gino Comelli, the six bodies recovered so far were found “torn to pieces.”
The disaster came a day after a record high temperature of 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) was recorded on top of the glacier, the largest in the Italian Alps.
The glacier has been weakened by decades of global warming, experts say.
Alpine Rescue spokeswoman Michela Canova told AFP that “an avalanche of snow, ice and rocks” hit the driveway at a time when there were several rope-bound groups, “some of which were swept away.”
A spokesman for the province of Trento said people were still missing.
The Corriere della Sera newspaper quoted Trento’s chief prosecutor, Sandro Raimondi, as saying he feared the death toll “might double if not triple” based on the number of cars in the car park.
But Canova called for bail, saying the total number of climbers involved “is not yet known.” Eight people have recovered with injuries.
“I heard a roar”
“I heard a roar, turned to my left and saw a mass of ice coming down the mountain,” ski instructor Luca Medici, 54, told AFP.
The bodies, excavated from ice and rock, were taken to the village of Canazei, where rescuers were visited by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Monday.
Helicopters and sniffer dogs were called off as night fell on Sunday and fears the glacier could still be unstable.
“It’s hard for the rescuers in (such) a dangerous situation,” Canazei Mayor Giovanni Bernard told AFP.
Avalanche footage taken from a nearby shelter shows snow and rocks flying down the mountainside.
“It is a miracle that we are alive,” engineer Stefano Dal Moro, who was traveling with his Israeli partner, told Corriere della Sera.
“Running is useless. You can only pray that this doesn’t come your way. We sat down and hugged each other tightly as the ice passed.”
Heat “over normal”
Massimo Frazzotti, professor of natural sciences at Roma Tre University, told AFP that the collapse was caused by unusually warm weather linked to global warming. Last winter was very dry, rainfall decreased by 40-50 percent.
“The current state of the glacier is what we expect to see in mid-August, not early July,” he said.
Glacier specialist Renato Colucci told AGI the phenomenon “should happen again” because “for several weeks, temperatures at altitude in the Alps have been well above normal.”
Recent high temperatures have created large amounts of water due to the melting of the glacier. He added that it accumulated at the bottom of the block of ice and caused it to collapse.
Pope Francis tweeted his prayers for the victims, saying climate change-driven tragedies such as this “should prompt us to urgently find new ways to respect people and nature.”
The Trento prosecutor’s office launched an investigation to determine the causes of the tragedy.
United Nations scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in March that melting ice and snow is one of the top 10 threats caused by global warming destroying ecosystems and infrastructure.
Jonathan Bamber, director of the Center for Glaciology at the University of Bristol, said melting glaciers are “making Europe’s high mountains an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable environment.”