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At least 14 hikers still missing as death toll rises after glacier collapse in Italy

Rescuers warned on Monday that hopes of finding survivors were dwindling after an avalanche caused by the collapse of an Italian glacier during a heat wave killed at least seven 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. Its collapse caused a thunder of ice and rock on 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 possible survivors trapped in the ice. But the chances of finding additional survivors now “are slim to none” because too much time has probably passed since the deadly avalanche, regional alpine rescue service chief Giorgio Gajer said in comments to the AGI news agency.

Rescuer Gino Comelli, who spoke to the outlet after six bodies were recovered from the mountain, said those found were “torn to pieces” in the aftermath of the tragedy.

The death toll rose as search and rescue missions progressed in Marmolada on Monday. Fugatti confirmed seven deaths as of late afternoon, according to AGI, while eight people were injured and at least 14 others remain missing. Two of the injured hikers were reportedly found in critical condition, and only three of the deceased could be immediately identified. It is still unclear exactly how many people were caught in the avalanche, as missing person reports kept pouring in throughout the day.

Disaster struck a day after a record temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded at the top of the glacier, which is 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, “including some were swept away.”

Marmolada.  Arabba.  Veneto.  Italy
Marmolada from Italy.

Giovanni Mereghetti/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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

Trento’s chief prosecutor, Sandro Raimondi, was quoted by Corriere della Sera as saying he fears the death toll ‘could double or even triple’, based on the number of cars left unattended in a car park near the mountain.

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

The bodies pulled from the ice and rock were transported to the village of Canazei, where Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi visited on Monday to speak about the avalanche. Helicopters and sniffer dogs were called back as night fell and amid fears the glacier was still unstable.

“It’s difficult for rescuers in 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 the Corriere della Sera newspaper. “There was a thud, and then that sea of ​​ice came down. There’s no point running, you can only pray it doesn’t happen to you. We crouched down and hugged each other. elbows when crossing the ice.”

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

“Current glacier conditions are mid-August, not early July,” he said.

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

Recent warm temperatures produced a large amount of water from melting glaciers that pooled at the bottom of the block of ice and caused it to collapse, he added.

The Trento public prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation to determine the causes of the tragedy.

The IPCC has said that glaciers in Scandinavia, Central Europe and the Caucasus could lose between 60 and 80% of their mass by the end of the century.

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