A large chunk of alpine glacier calved Sunday afternoon and slid down the side of a mountain in Italy, sending ice, snow and rocks lashing hikers on a popular summit trail and killing at least six and injuring to eight, authorities said.
It couldn’t be immediately determined how many hikers were in the area or if any were missing, said Walter Milan, a spokesman for the national alpine rescue corps who provided the number of dead and injured.
Rescuers were checking license plates in the parking lot as part of checks to determine how many people might be missing, a process that could take hours, Milan said by phone.
“We saw dead (people) and huge chunks of ice, rocks,” rescuer Luigi Felicetti, looking exhausted, told Italian state television.
The nationalities or ages of the dead were not immediately available, Milan said. Of the eight hospitalized survivors, two were in serious condition, emergency dispatch services said.
The fast-moving avalanche “descended with a roar that could be heard for a long distance,” the local online media site ildolomiti.it said.
Earlier, the National Alpine and Cave Rescue Corps tweeted that the search for the involved area of Marmolada Peak involved at least five helicopters and rescue dogs.
The SUEM dispatch service, based in the nearby Veneto region, said 18 people over the area where the ice hit would be evacuated by the alpine rescue team.
But Milan said some on the slope could climb down on their own, even using the cable car from the peak.
SUEM said the avalanche consisted of a “shedding of snow, ice and rocks.” The separated section is known as a serrac or ice pinnacle.
Marmolada, with a height of about 3,300 meters (about 11,000 feet), is the highest peak in the Eastern Dolomites and offers spectacular views of other alpine peaks.
The alpine rescue service said in a tweet that the segment broke off near Punta Rocca (Rock Point), “on the itinerary normally used to reach the top.”
It was not immediately clear what caused the section of ice to break off and hurtle down the slope of the peak. But the intense heat wave that has affected Italy since the end of June could be a factor.
“The temperatures of these days clearly influenced” the partial collapse of the glacier, Maurizio Fugatti, president of the province of Trento, which borders Marmolada, told Sky TG24 news.
But Milan stressed that intense heat, which rose unusually above 50 F (10 C) at Marmolada peak in recent days, was only one possible factor in Sunday’s tragedy.
“There are so many factors that could be involved,” Milan said. Avalanches are generally not predictable, he said, and the influence of heat on a glacier “is even more impossible to predict.”
In separate comments to Italian state television, Milan called recent temperatures “extreme heat” for the peak. “It’s clearly something abnormal.”
The injured were taken to various hospitals in the Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto regions, according to the rescue services.