Drones used in search after fatal Italian glacier avalanche

Drones are flying over an Italian Alpine mountainside seeking to spot any more victims, a day after a huge chunk of a rapidly melting glacier broke loose, sending an avalanche of ice, snow and rocks slamming into hikers

ByFRANCES D'EMILIO Associated Press
July 04, 2022, 5:09 AM
This undated image made available Monday, July 4, 2022, by the press office of the Autonomous Province of Trento shows the glacier in the Marmolada range of Italy's Alps near Trento from which a large chunk has broken loose Sunday, killing at least s
This undated image made available Monday, July 4, 2022, by the press office of the Autonomous Province of Trento shows the glacier in the Marmolada range of Italy's Alps near Trento from which a large chunk has broken loose Sunday, killing at least six hikers and injuring eight others. Drones were being used to spot any more bodies on an Italian Alpine mountainside a day after a huge chunk of a glacier broke loose, sending an avalanche of ice, snow, and rocks onto hikers. Rescuers on Sunday spotted six bodies and said nine survivors were injured. Attention on Monday was focused on determining how many people who might have been hiking on the Marmolada peak are unaccounted for. Rescuers said conditions downslope from the glacier, which has been melting for decades, were still too unstable to immediately send rescuers and dogs into the area to look for others buried under tons of debris. (Autonomous Province of Trento via AP)
The Associated Press

ROME -- Drones flew over an Italian Alpine mountainside on Monday seeking to spot any more victims, a day after a huge chunk of a rapidly melting glacier broke loose, sending an avalanche of ice, snow and rocks slamming into hikers. At least six people were killed and an indeterminate number are missing.

Rescuers on Sunday spotted six bodies and said nine injured survivors were found. Attention was focused on determining how many people might have been hiking on the Marmolada peak and are unaccounted for. Sixteen cars remained unclaimed in the area's parking lot.

Authorities were trying to track down occupants through vehicle license plates. It was unclear how many of the cars might have belonged to the already identified victims or to the injured, all of whom were flown by helicopters on Sunday to hospitals in northeastern Italy.

After the search was temporarily halted on Sunday night, officials said about 15 people could be missing, but stressed the situation was evolving.

Rescuers said conditions downslope from the glacier, which has been melting for decades, were still too unstable to immediately send teams of people and dogs to dig into tons of debris.

Premier Mario Draghi and the head of the national Civil Protection agency were expected to go on Monday to Canazei, a tourist town in the Dolomite range which has been serving as a base for rescuers.

Relatives were also expected to go to the town to identify bodies when rescuers can safely remove them from the mountain.

What caused a pinnacle of the glacier to break off and thunder down the slope at a speed estimated by experts at some 300 kph (nearly 200 mph), wasn't immediately known. But the heat wave gripping Italy since May, bringing temperatures unusually high for the start of summer even up in the normally cooler Alps was being cited as a likely factor.

Jacopo Gabrieli, a polar sciences researcher at Italy's state-run CNR research center, noted that the long heat wave, spanning May and June, was the hottest in northern Italy in that period for nearly 20 years.

"It's absolutely an anomaly,'' Gabrieli said in an interview on Italian state TV Monday. Like other experts, he said it would have been impossible to predict when or if a serac — a pinnacle from a glacier's overhang — could break off, as it did on Sunday.

Alpine rescuers on Sunday noted that late last week, the temperature on the 3,300-meter (11,000-foot) high peak had topped 10C (50F), far higher than usual. Operators of rustic shelters along the mountainside said temperatures at the 2,000-meter (6,600 foot) level recently reached 24C (75 F), unheard-of heat in a place where excursionists go in summer to keep cool.

The glacier, in the Marmolada range, is the largest in the Dolomite mountains in northeastern Italy. People ski on it in the winter. But the glacier has been rapidly melting away over the past decades, with much of its volume gone. Experts at Italy’s state-run CNR research center, which has a polar sciences institute, estimated a couple of years ago that the glacier won’t exist anymore within 25-30 years.

The Mediterranean basin, which includes southern European countries like Italy, has been identified by U.N. experts as a “climate change hot spot,” likely to suffer heat waves and water shortages, among other consequences.

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