‘In five minutes, everything changed’: City mourns victims of glacier tragedy

A Sunday’s ascent of the Marmolada, the largest glacier in the northern Italian Dolomites, was only meant to be a warm-up for Filippo Bari and his friends before an even bigger challenge this weekend.

The 27-year-old mountaineer was so happy to be on the glacier that he sent his brother a selfie. Hours later, the father-of-a-child from the Venetian town of Malo was among the first victims identified after a huge mass of glacier broke away, sending an avalanche of ice, rocks and debris tumbling down the slope and on a popular hike. Track.

“He was a great man, so young, full of life and passion for the mountains,” said Lino Re, the president of the Malo de Cai unit, the Italian mountaineering club of which Bari was a member. “We had a trip to Monte Rosa, the second highest peak in the Alps after Mont Blanc, planned for this weekend and Filippo and his friends were preparing for it.”

A man carries flowers to Canazei to honor the victims. Photo: Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

Bari was on the Marmolada with a group of four climbers. One was injured in the avalanche and the other two are among 13 still missing.

Seven people have so far been confirmed dead and eight injured, two seriously, in a tragedy that rocked Canazei, the nearest town to the Marmolada. Many of its 2,000 residents were keenly aware of the rapidly changing glacier but had never anticipated such a disaster.

Filippo Bari, one of the victims of the ice fall from the Marmolada Glacier, Italy.  His photo was shared on the Facebook page of Francesco Gonzo, the mayor of his hometown.
Filippo Bari, one of the victims of the ice fall from the Marmolada Glacier, Italy. His photo was shared on the Facebook page of Francesco Gonzo, the mayor of his hometown.

“It is even difficult to put words to what happened,” said Pietro Planchenstein. “Knowing that these people lost their lives so close is terrible. The glacier has changed a lot; when I was a kid I skied on it – in the summer – now it’s impossible.

Known as the queen of the Dolomites, the Marmolada has lost more than 80% of its volume over the past 72 years, with the speed of its decline accelerating over the past decade. Italian scientists warned in 2020 that the glacier could disappear within 15 years due to global warming.

Rescuers resumed their search for missing people on Tuesday morning, an operation that has been hampered by thunderstorms for the past 24 hours, although hopes of finding them alive have dwindled.

The victims identified so far are Tommaso Carollo, 48, and Paolo Dani, an alpine guide. Some of the bodies can only be identified through DNA testing due to the nature of their deaths. They were taken to a makeshift morgue at an ice rink near Canazei, where relatives of those still missing are desperately waiting for news.

Lucia Novak, worker at Rifugio Marmolada V3
Lucia Novak, who works at Rifugio Marmolada. Photography: Giulia Faccin/The Guardian

Among those missing are Italians, three Romanians, one of French nationality, another from Austria and four from the Czech Republic. Two of the injured are from Germany.

They had all ventured to La Marmolada on a beautiful sunny day. “The terrace was full of people,” said Lucia Novak, who works at Rifugio Marmolada, a mountain refuge and restaurant overlooking the glacier.

“I heard a noise, around 2 p.m., and when I looked up, I saw the avalanche, but I didn’t realize what it was. In five minutes everything changed – we had this beautiful sunshine, but then it turned dark, cold and windy. I could see people coming down the slope, then nothing. I immediately called the emergency services. I have worked here since 2003 and have never seen anything like it.

Tracking access to Marmolada.
Tracking access to Marmolada. Photography: Giulia Faccin/The Guardian

The Marmolada has been measured every year since 1902 and is considered a “natural thermometer” of climate change but, according to Aldino Bondesan, professor of geophysics at the University of Padua and member of the Italian Glaciological Committee, there has never been a detailed study. dedicated to the danger of rupture because falls of this type have never been recorded.

He said a friend went to the glacier on Saturday and took photos near the area of ​​the tragedy. “Looking at the photos, you don’t see any evidence of significant fractures to suggest he was in a more dangerous condition than at other times,” Bondesan added.

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Experts believe the heatwave that has gripped Italy since May, bringing unusually high temperatures for the start of summer, even to the normally cooler Alps, contributed to the glacier breaking up and its fall at an estimated speed of nearly 200 mph (300 km/h).

The winter was also exceptionally warm, with significantly lower snowfall than the previous winter.

“It is clear that if it is very hot, the risk of pieces of suspended glacier breaking off is greater,” said Claudio Smiraglia, a glaciologist at the University of Milan. “There have been many cases on Mont Blanc, but on Mont Blanc there are areas, especially those frequented by mountaineers, where there is continuous surveillance. The most obvious sign is widening of the crevasses, but it is not always so easy to grasp to the point of perceiving it as a danger and closing the mountain.But this warming has put the glaciers in crisis and requires maximum attention.

Re, who has been climbing mountains for more than 30 years, had seen the Marmolada evolve at an alarming rate. “The glacier had already been reduced to a very sad level and has gradually worsened over the past decade,” he said. “Sunday’s event was exceptional; we can hope that such exceptional events will be few, but unfortunately there will be more to come.

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