Glacier collapse in Italian Alps: at least 6 dead

A huge block broke off the Marmolada glacier, the largest in the Italian Alps, on Sunday afternoon, causing an avalanche that killed at least six and injured eight.

Auxiliary spokeswoman Michela Canova told the AFP news agency in the early evening that the number of deaths had risen from five to “six confirmed victims”.

Eight were also injured: two of them were transported to the Belluno hospital, a heavier one to Treviso and five to Trento, she said, without giving any information on the nationality of the victims.

Several helicopters were deployed on site to take part in the rescue operations and to monitor the evolution of the situation. In fact, this collapse happened the day after a record temperature of ten degrees at the top of the glacier.

According to Renato Colucci, a glacier specialist quoted by the Italian agency AGI, “this phenomenon will inevitably repeat itself” because “for weeks the high-altitude temperatures in the Alps have been well above normal values”.

The rescue spokeswoman described “an avalanche of snow, ice and rock that hit the access road with several rope teams and was partially swept away”. “The final number of climbers involved is not yet known,” she added.

According to the Civil Protection of the nearby Veneto region (northeast), “all the alpine rescue forces of the region have been mobilized”, including dog units.

The glacier collapsed near the village of Punta Rocca, along the route normally taken to reach its summit.

Footage filmed from a shelter near the disaster shows snow mixed with rocks rolling down the mountain’s slopes with a cracking sound. Other pictures taken by tourists with their cellphones show the gray tongue of the avalanche from afar, sweeping away everything in its path and leaving climbers no chance.

In images transmitted by the Alpine rescue service, we can see how the rescuers are working near the scene of the accident, overflown by helicopters, to transport the victims down the valley to the village of Canazei, not far from where the cable car departs to the summit of the glacier.

The rescuers’ job was particularly difficult as they had to retrieve the bodies from the rock-mixed ice drift on the spot.

A group of psychologists was also activated to help the victims’ families.

According to scientist Renato Colucci, “the extreme heat of the last few days (…) probably produced a large amount of liquid water from the melting of the glacier and accumulated at the base of the block”, which then collapsed without support.

The Marmolada Glacier, also known as the “Queen of the Dolomites”, is the largest glacier in this mountain range of northern Italy, which is part of the Alps. Located in Trentino, it springs from the Avisio River and overlooks Lake Fedaia.

According to the IPCC report published on March 1st, melting ice and snow is one of the top ten threats caused by global warming, disrupting ecosystems and threatening certain infrastructure.

According to the IPCC, glaciers in Scandinavia, Central Europe and the Caucasus could lose 60 to 80% of their mass by the end of the century. The traditional lives of people like the Sami in Lapland, who practice reindeer herding, are already disrupted.

In Canada and Russia, thawing permafrost is hampering economic activity.

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