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‘Slim’ chances of finding survivors after Italian glacier collapse

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CANAZEI: Rescuers warned on Monday (July 4) that hopes of finding survivors were dwindling after an avalanche triggered by the collapse of an Italian glacier during a heat wave killed at least six people

Authorities said they don’t know how many climbers were affected when the glacier gave way on Sunday on the Marmolada, the highest mountain in the Italian Dolomites.

Ice and rock rolled down the slope at 300 km/h, according to the head of the province of Trento, Maurizio Fugatti.

On Monday, rescuers armed with thermal drones searched for the body heat of potential survivors trapped in the ice, though hope was quickly fading.

The chances of finding survivors “are slim to none”, the head of the Alpine Rescue Service in the region, Giorgio Gajer, told the AGI news agency.

All six bodies recovered so far were found “torn apart”, rescuer Gino Comelli said.

Disaster struck a day after a record temperature of 10 degrees Celsius was recorded at the top of the glacier, the largest in the Italian Alps.

The glacier has been weakened by decades of global warming, experts said.

Alpine Rescue spokeswoman Michela Canova told AFP that an “avalanche of snow, ice and rocks ‘hit an access path at a time when there were several rope parties,'” some of which were taken away”.

A spokesperson for the province of Trento said people were still missing.

Trento chief prosecutor Sandro Raimondi, quoted by the Corriere della Sera newspaper, said he feared the death toll “could double or even triple”, based on the number of cars in the parking lot.

But Canova urged caution, saying the total number of climbers involved was “not yet known”. Eight people were recovered with injuries.

“HEAR 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.

Bodies extracted from the ice and rock were taken to the village of Canazei, where Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi visited rescue workers on Monday.

Helicopters and sniffer dogs were called back as night fell on Sunday and amid fears the glacier was still unstable.

“It’s difficult for rescuers in (such) a dangerous situation,” Canazei mayor Giovanni Bernard told AFP.

Footage of the avalanche filmed from a nearby shelter shows snow and rocks rolling down the slopes of the mountain.

“It’s a miracle that we are alive,” Stefano Dal Moro, an engineer who was hiking with his Israeli partner, told Corriere della Sera.

“There’s no point in running. You can only pray it doesn’t happen to you. We crouched down and hugged each other as the ice went through.”

“BEYOND NORMAL” HEAT

Massimo Frezzotti, a science professor at Roma Tre University, told AFP the collapse was caused by abnormally hot weather linked to global warming. Last winter was very dry, with rainfall down 40-50%.

“The current state of the glacier is something we expect to see in mid-August, not early July,” he said.

Glacier specialist Renato Colucci told AGI that the phenomenon was “doomed to repeat itself” because “for weeks, temperatures at altitude in the Alps have been well above normal values”.

Recent warm temperatures had generated a large amount of water from melting glaciers. It had collected at the bottom of the block of ice and caused it to crumble, he added.

Pope Francis tweeted his prayers for the victims, saying that climate change-induced tragedies like this one “must push us to urgently seek new ways of respecting people and nature.”

The Trento public prosecutor’s office has opened 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 were among the top 10 threats caused by global warming, disrupting ecosystems and infrastructure.

Jonathan Bamber, director of the University of Bristol’s Center for Glaciology, said declining glaciers “make Europe’s high mountains an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable environment”.