by Frances D’Amilio
ROME ( Associated Press) — Drones flew over an Italian alpine mountain on Monday trying to find any more victims, a day after a rapidly melting glacier loosened a large chunk of ice, snow and ice. An avalanche of rocks fell into the hikers. At least six people were killed and an uncertain number are missing.
Rescue workers saw six bodies on Sunday and said nine were injured. Attention was focused on determining how many people were hiking and unaccounted for at Marmolada Peak. Sixteen cars remained unattended in the area’s parking lot.
The officials were trying to track down the occupants through the vehicle license plates. It was unclear how many of the cars had previously identified victims or injured, all of whom were flown by helicopters to hospitals in northeastern Italy on Sunday.
After the search was temporarily halted on Sunday night, officials said about 15 people may be missing, but insisted the situation was evolving.
Rescue workers said conditions downstream from the glacier, which had been melting for decades, were still so unstable that teams of people and dogs could not be immediately dispatched to dig through tons of debris.
Premier Mario Draghi and the head of the National Civil Protection Agency were expected to visit Canazi, a tourist town in the Dolomite Range that serves as a base for rescue teams, on Monday.
Relatives were also expected to go to town to identify the bodies when rescuers can safely remove them from the mountain.
What caused the glacier’s summit to break off and thunder down the slopes, estimated by experts at around 300 kilometers per hour (about 200 mph), was not immediately known. But a heat wave in Italy since May, bringing unusually high temperatures for the start of summer, was being cited as a possible factor even in the cooler Alps in general.
Jacopo Gabrielli, a researcher in polar science at Italy’s government CNR Research Center, said the long heat wave that spanned May and June was the warmest in northern Italy during that period for nearly 20 years.
“It’s completely an anomaly,” Gabrielli said in an interview Monday on Italian state TV. Like other experts, he said it would be impossible to predict when or if a serac – a summit from a glacier’s overhang – could break off, as it did on Sunday.
Alpine rescue teams noted on Sunday that at the end of last week, temperatures at the 3,300-meter (11,000-foot) high peak had reached 10C (50F) above normal. Operators of pastoral shelters on the side of the mountain said temperatures had recently reached 24C (75 F) at the 2,000-metre (6,600 ft), a heat unheard of in a place tourists visit to cool off in the summer. .
The glacier, in the Marmolada 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 the last decades, its volume has been greatly reduced. Experts from Italy’s state-run CNR Research Center, which houses a Polar Science Institute, estimated a few years ago that the glacier would no longer exist within 25-30 years.
The Mediterranean basin, which includes southern European countries such as Italy, identified by UN experts as a “climate change hot spot”, is likely to suffer from heat waves and water shortages, among other consequences.