ROME — About 17 people remain missing for a day after a huge chunk of an Alpine glacier broke off and slammed into hikers in northern Italy, officials said Monday.
At least six people were killed and nine injured by the avalanche of ice, snow and large rocks that thundered off the slope of the Marmolada Glacier mountain on Sunday afternoon.
Trento’s prosecutor Sandro Raimondi said 17 hikers were believed to be missing, Italian news agency LaPresse reported.
Veneto regional governor Luca Zaia said some of those hiking in the area on Sunday were tied up as they climbed.
Nationalities of the known dead were not disclosed and conditions were too dangerous Monday morning for dog rescue teams to resume the search for missing persons or take down the bodies.
The bodies will be taken to an ice rink in the Dolomite mountain resort town of Canazei for identification.
Raimondi said two of the nine injured are Germans. Zaia told reporters that one of the Germans was a 65-year-old man. Of the injured patients, one of the patients in the intensive care unit has yet to be identified.
The patients had injuries to the chest and skull, Zaia said.
Drones were used to search for missing persons and to verify security.
Sixteen cars remained unclaimed in the area’s parking lot and authorities attempted to track down the occupants through license plates. It was unclear how many of the cars might have been among the already identified victims or of the injured, all of whom were flown by helicopter to hospitals on Sunday.
Rescuers said conditions leading down from the glacier, which has been melting for decades, were too unstable until Monday morning to send teams of people and dogs back to dig into tons of rubble.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi and the head of the national civil defense agency traveled to the affected area on Monday for briefings. †
What caused a top of the glacier to break off and thunder down the slope at a speed estimated by experts at around 300 km/h (nearly 200 mph) was not immediately known. But the heat wave that has gripped Italy since May, leaving temperatures unusually high for the start of summer, even in the normally cooler Alps, was cited as a likely factor.
Jacopo Gabrieli, a polar science researcher at the state-run CNR Research Center in Italy, noted that the long heatwave, which stretched from May to June, was the hottest in Northern Europe for nearly 20 years. Italy.
“It is definitely an anomaly,” Gabrieli said in an interview on Italian state television on Monday. Like other experts, he said it would have been impossible to predict when or if a serac — a pinnacle of a glacier’s overhang — could break down as it did Sunday.
Alpine rescuers noted on Sunday that late last week the temperature at the 3,300-meter peak had reached 10C (50F), much higher than normal. Operators of rustic shelters along the mountainside said temperatures at the 2,000-meter mark recently reached 24°C (75 F), unheard of heat in a place tourists flock in the summer to keep cool.
The glacier, in the Marmolada Mountains, is the largest in the Dolomites in northeastern Italy. In the winter people ski on it. But the glacier has been melting rapidly in recent decades and much of its volume has disappeared. Experts at the state-run CNR research center in Italy, which has an institute of polar sciences, estimated a few years ago that the glacier will be gone in 25-30 years.
The Mediterranean, which includes southern European countries such as Italy, has been identified by UN experts as a “climate change hotspot”, which will suffer from heat waves and water shortages, among other things.