ROME ( Associated Press) – At least 17 people have been left unaccounted for a day after a large section of an alpine glacier in northern Italy broke off and hit pedestrians, officials said on Monday.
At least six people were killed and nine injured when an avalanche of snow, ice and large rocks rolled down the slope of the mountain at the top of the Marmolda Glacier on Sunday afternoon.
Italian news agency LaPresse reported that Trento prosecutor Sandro Raimondi said 17 passengers were believed to be missing.
Veneto regional government Luca Zia said on Sunday some of the hikers in the area were held together during the climb.
The nationalities of the known dead have not been disclosed, and the situation was too dire on Monday morning for rescue teams with dogs to resume the search for the missing or bring the bodies.
The bodies will be brought to an ice skating rink in the resort town of Canazi in the Dolomite mountain range for identification.
Raimondi was quoted as saying that two of the nine wounded were Germans. Zia told reporters that one of the Germans was a 65-year-old man. One of the injured patients is yet to be identified.
Jia said that the patients have suffered chest and cranial injuries.
Drones were being used to search for any missing as well as to check security.
Sixteen cars remained unattended in the area’s parking lot, and officials sought to track down the occupants via license plates. It was not clear how many of the cars belonged to previously unidentified victims or injured, all of whom were flown by helicopters to hospitals on Sunday.
Rescue workers said conditions below the glacier, which had been melting for decades, were still so unstable that it wasn’t early Monday to send teams of people and dogs back to dig through tons of debris.
Premier Mario Draghi and the head of the National Civil Protection Agency were traveling to the stricken region for a briefing on Monday. ,
What caused the glacier’s summit to break off and thunder down the slopes, estimated by experts at around 300 kilometers per hour (about 200 mph), was not immediately known. But a heat wave in Italy since May, bringing unusually high temperatures for the start of summer, was being cited as a possible factor even in the cooler Alps in general.
Jacopo Gabrielli, a researcher in polar science at Italy’s government CNR Research Center, said the long heat wave that spanned May and June was the warmest in northern Italy during that period for nearly 20 years.
“It’s totally an anomaly,” Gabrielli said in an interview Monday on Italian state TV. Like other experts, he said it would be impossible to predict when or if a serac – a summit from the top of a glacier – could break off, as it did on Sunday.
Alpine rescue teams noted on Sunday that at the end of last week, temperatures at the 3,300-meter (11,000-foot) high peak had reached 10C (50F) above normal. Operators of pastoral shelters on the side of the mountain said temperatures had recently reached 24C (75 F) at the 2,000-metre (6,600 ft), a heat unheard of in a place tourists visit to cool off in the summer. .
The glacier, in the Marmolada Range, is the largest of the Dolomite Mountains in northeastern Italy. People ski on it in winter. But the glacier has been melting rapidly in the last decades, its volume has been greatly reduced. Experts from Italy’s state-run CNR Research Center, which houses a Polar Science Institute, estimated a few years ago that the glacier would no longer exist within 25-30 years.
The Mediterranean basin, which includes southern European countries such as Italy, identified by UN experts as a “climate change hot spot”, is likely to suffer from heat waves and water shortages, among other consequences.