Alpine avalanche leaves 7 known dead and 14 missing in Italy

ROME (AP) — Thunderstorms on Monday hampered the search for more than a dozen hikers who went missing for a day after a huge chunk of an alpine glacier in Italy broke off, sending an avalanche of ice, snow and rocks down the slope. Authorities put the known death toll at seven.

“I hope the numbers stop here,” said Veneto Governor Luca Zaia, whose northeastern region of Italy borders the Dolomites mountain range, including the Marmolada Glacier. He spoke in the resort town of Canazei, where a morgue has been set up in the ice rink.

Another regional leader, Maurizio Fugatti, said as of Monday afternoon, 14 people were still missing: 10 Italians, three from Czechia and one from Austria. “We have been contacted by families because these people have not returned home,” said Fugatti from the Alpine region of Trentino-Alto Adige.

In the parking lot on the mountain, there were four cars left whose occupants had not been found – two cars had plates from the Czech Republic, one from Germany and the fourth from Hungary.

Fugatti raised the possibility that there are people whose families don’t know their status because they might be on vacation and only check in with relatives at the end of the vacation.

At least three of the dead were Italians, authorities said. According to Italian reports, one of the deceased was from Czechia, better known in English as the Czech Republic.

On Sunday, officials said nine people were injured, but at a Monday press conference in the Canazei resort, officials said there were eight people, two of them hospitalized in what they said. described as a “delicate”, serious condition.

Zaia said those hospitalized included two Germans and a 40-year-old patient who has not yet been identified.

The avalanche fell while dozens of hikers were on the excursion, some of whom were roped.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, accompanying officials after meeting family members of some of the dead, expressed “the most sincere, affectionate and heartfelt closeness” to the families.

Grimly, he demanded that measures be taken to ensure that such a tragedy does not happen again. “It’s a drama that certainly has some unpredictability,” Draghi said, echoing several experts who said an avalanche triggered by a glacier breaking could not be predicted.

But what happened “certainly depends on the deterioration of the environment and the climatic situation”, the prime minister said.

The Marmolada glacier has been shrinking for decades and scientists from the government research center CNR have said it will no longer exist in 25 to 30 years.

“Today, Italy comes together” around the affected families, Draghi said. “The government needs to reflect on what happened and take action, so that what is happening has a very small chance, if any, of happening again.”

The detached part of the glacier was massive, estimated to be 200 meters (yards) wide, 80 meters high and 60 meters deep. Zaia compared the avalanche to a “block of ice (the size of a building) with debris and cyclopean rock masses”.

“I can’t say anything but the facts, and the facts tell us that high temperatures don’t favor these situations,” Zaia told reporters.

Italy is in the grip of a week-long heatwave, and alpine rescuers said the temperature at glacier altitude last week rose above 10C (50F) when it is generally expected above the freezing point at this time of year.

Drones were being used to help search for the missing and check security, but even they had to stop working when thunderstorms hit the area in the late morning.

What caused a top of the glacier to break off and rumble down the slope at a speed estimated by experts at around 300 km/h (nearly 200 mph), was not immediately known.

But high temperatures have been widely cited as a likely factor.

Jacopo Gabrieli, a polar scientist at the Italian research center CNR, noted that the long heat wave, which runs from May to June, was the hottest in northern Italy during this period for nearly 20 years old.

“It’s absolutely an anomaly,” Gabrieli said in an interview with Italian public television on Monday. Like other experts, he said it would have been impossible to predict when or if a serac – a summit of the overhang of a glacier – might rupture, as it did on Sunday.

Operators of rustic mountainside shelters said temperatures at the 2,000-metre (6,600ft) level had recently hit 24C (75F) – unheard of in a place where day-trippers go by summer to cool off.

The glacier, in the Marmolada range, is the largest of the Dolomite mountains in northeast Italy. People ski on it in winter. But the glacier has rapidly melted in recent decades, with much of its volume gone.

The Mediterranean basin, which includes southern European countries such as Italy, has been identified by UN experts as a “climate change hotspot”, susceptible to heat waves and water shortages. water, among other consequences.

Pope Francis, who has made the planet a priority of his papacy, tweeted an invitation to pray for avalanche victims and their families.

“The tragedies we are experiencing with climate change must push us to urgently seek new ways that respect people and nature,” Francis wrote.

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