Seventeen people remain missing after a massive chunk of ice from the Marmolada glacier in Italy’s Trentino region collapsed killing at least six hikers, including two Italians and one Czech.
Mountain rescue units worked through the night and warned that about 30 people could have been in the area when the tide of snow, ice and rocks tumbled at high speed towards the valley.
“There have been other detachments of seracs (block of ice)… but we have never seen such a large mass of ice with a front of over 80 metres come down,” Alpine rescue member Mario Brunello told Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
Unseasonably high temperatures across the country are thought to have caused the deadly avalanche, with the thermometers in Marmolada touching 10C on Saturday.
“For weeks the temperatures at altitude in the Alps have been well beyond normal values,” said Renato Colucci, a glacier specialist quoted by the Italian agency AGI.
The phenomenon was “bound to repeat itself”. According to a March report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, melting ice and snow is one of 10 major threats caused by global warming, disrupting ecosystems and infrastructure.
“The glacier destabilised at its base due to the large availability of melting water after weeks of extremely high temperatures,” non-profit Alpine-Adriatic Meteorological Society, based in the city of Udine, in north-east Italy, warned.
The search mission for the 17 missing people was suspended at midday yesterday because of bad weather with rescuers warning there may not be any survivors left.
“They’re difficult to identify,” one rescuer told La Repubblica. “The bodies have been torn apart.”
Italians have taken to social media to mourn the dead and express their frustration at a tragedy that many believe could have been avoided.
“One year ago I was showing Marmolada glacier to my daughters telling them, ‘I am happy you got the chance to see it before it disappears’.” one Twitter user wrote. “Today I am crying.
“Science proved that all of this is fossil fuel’s responsibility. Shame on governments supporting it.”