Drone search resumes on Italian glacier after avalanche

CANAZEI, Italy –

Rescuers using drones resumed the search Tuesday for some 13 missing hikers following a powerful avalanche in northern Italy that killed at least seven people and is largely blamed on rising temperatures that are melting glaciers.

After rain hampered the search on Monday, sunny weather on Tuesday allowed helicopters to fly more rescue teams to the site on the Marmolada glacier, east of Bolzano in the Dolomites mountain range, even as hopes of find someone alive

A large part of the glacier broke off Sunday, triggering an avalanche that sent torrents of ice, rock and debris down the mountainside toward unsuspecting hikers. At least seven people were killed and an estimated 13 are still missing, authorities said.

“We have to be clear, finding someone alive with this type of event is a very remote possibility, very remote, because the mechanical action of this type of avalanche has a very large impact on people,” said Alex Barattin, of the Service of Alpine rescue. .

Nicola Casagli, a geologist and avalanche expert at the University of Florence, said the impact of the glacier’s collapse on hikers was greater than a simple snow avalanche and would have taken them completely by surprise.

“These types of events, which are ice and debris avalanches, are impulsive, fast, unpredictable phenomena that reach very high speeds and involve large masses,” he said. “And there’s no chance of getting to a safe place or noticing the problem beforehand, because by the time you do, you’ve already been hit.”

Associated Press photos, taken during a helicopter inspection of the site, showed a gaping hole in the glacier as if it had been carved out of the blue-gray ice by a giant ice cream scoop.

The ground was still so unstable that rescue teams stood to the side and used drones to try to find survivors or signs of life while helicopters searched overhead, some using equipment to detect cellular pings. Two rescuers remained at the scene overnight and were joined by more rescuers Tuesday morning.

“We are continuing the work of the drones to find survivors, working in the areas that we were unable to monitor yesterday,” Matteo Gasperini, of the Alpine Rescue service, told Sky TG24. “We will try to complete the job of monitoring the entire site.”

Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who visited the rescue base in Canazei on Monday, acknowledged that avalanches are unpredictable but that the tragedy “certainly depends on the deteriorating weather situation.”

Italy is in the midst of an early summer heat wave, coupled with the worst drought in northern Italy in 70 years. Experts say there was unusually little snow during the winter, further exposing glaciers in the Italian Alps to summer heat and melt.

“We are then in the worst conditions for a detachment of this type, when there is so much heat and so much water running in the base,” said Renato Colucci, of the Institute of Polar Sciences of the state National Research Council, or CNR. “We still can’t figure out if it was a deep or shallow slide, but the size seems very large, judging from the preliminary images and information received.”

The CNR has estimated that the Marmolada glacier could disappear completely in the next 25-30 years if current climate trends continue, given that between 2004 and 2015 it lost 30% of its volume and 22% of its surface.

Casagli said what happened in the Marmolada was unusual, but said such destructive avalanches will become more frequent as global temperatures rise.

“The fact that it happened in a scorching summer with abnormal temperatures should be a wake-up call to understand that these phenomena, although rare, are possible,” he told reporters. “If we don’t take decisive action to counteract the effects of climate change, they will become more and more frequent.”

Nicole Winfield reported from Rome.

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