Alpine avalanche leaves 7 known dead and 13 missing in Italy

CANAZEI, Italy –

Thunderstorms on Monday hampered the search for more than a dozen hikers who were missing for a day after a large chunk of an alpine glacier in Italy calved, sending an avalanche of ice, snow and rock down the slope. Authorities put the known death toll at seven.

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

Another regional leader, Maurizio Fugatti, said 14 people were still missing as of Monday afternoon: 10 Italians, three from the Czech Republic and one from Austria. Local officials later said that Austrian consular officials had contacted the Austrian.

“We were contacted by families because these people did not return home,” said Fugatti from the alpine region of Trentino-Alto Adige.

In the parking lot on the mountain, four cars remained whose occupants had not been traced: two cars had Czech license plates; one vehicle was from Germany and the fourth was from Hungary.

At least three of the dead were Italian, authorities said. Italian news reports said one of the deceased was from the Czech Republic, which is better known in English as the Czech Republic.

One of the Italians was Filippo Bari, 28, who took a selfie with the Marmolada glacier in the background minutes before the avalanche, his brother, Andrea, told state television in Canazei, where he went to identify the body.

Although he is an expert mountaineer, his brother says that his family always told him to be careful in the mountains, “especially in these temperatures.” He said the selfie was sent just 20 minutes before the avalanche and that his brother, who had a partner and a 4-year-old son, was smiling. “He passed away doing what he loved.”

On Sunday, authorities said nine people were injured, but on Monday they told reporters in Canazei that eight were injured, including two in serious condition.

Zaia said that among those hospitalized were two Germans and a 40-year-old patient yet to be identified.

The avalanche broke out with a bang as dozens of hikers were out hiking, including some tied up with ropes.

Looking somber after meeting with the families of some of the dead, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi demanded that steps be taken so that such a tragedy does not happen again.

“This is a drama that certainly has some unpredictability and certainly depends on the environmental deterioration and the climatic situation,” Draghi said, echoing several experts who said an avalanche caused by the rupture of a glacier could not be forecast.

The Marmolada Glacier has been shrinking for decades, and scientists at the government research center CNR have said it will be gone in 25 to 30 years.

“Today, Italy cries for the victims, all Italians embrace them with affection,” Draghi said. “The government must reflect on what happened and take action, so that what happened has very little chance of happening again or being avoided altogether.”

The detached portion of the glacier was huge, estimated at 200 meters wide, 80 meters high and 60 meters deep. Zaia compared the avalanche to a “block of ice (the size) of an apartment building with debris and cyclopean masses of rock.”

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

Italy is in the midst of a weeks-long heat wave, and alpine rescuers said the temperature at the glacier’s altitude last week exceeded 10 C (50 F), when it should normally hover around freezing at this time. time of the year.

It was not immediately known what exactly caused a glacier pinnacle to break off and thunder down the slope at a speed estimated by experts to be around 300 kph (nearly 200 mph).

But high temperatures were widely cited as a factor.

“The atmosphere and the climate, especially below 3,500 meters, are in complete imbalance thanks to the ‘new’ climate that we have been recording, and unfortunately these events are probably destined to repeat themselves in the coming years,” said Renato Colucci of the Institute of Polar Sciences of the state National Research Council (CNR).

Jacopo Gabrieli, another CNR glacier expert, told state television that the long heat wave, which lasted between May and June, was the highest in northern Italy in that period for almost 20 years, “absolutely a anomaly”.

Operators of rustic lodges along the mountainside said temperatures at the 6,600-foot (2,000-meter) level recently reached 75 F (24 C), unheard of in a place where hikers go in the summer to cool off. .

The glacier, in the Marmolada mountain 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 recent decades, and much of its volume has disappeared.

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

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

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

Frances D’Emilio reported from Rome.

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