Drones and helicopters search for missing after Italian glacier collapse

CANAZEI, Italy, July 4 (Reuters) – Helicopter crews and drones searched on Monday for around 15 people missing in the Italian Alps after part of a mountain glacier collapsed, killing at least six people and injuring eight.

Much of Italy baked during an early summer heatwave and experts said the disaster was linked to climate change making glaciers more unstable.

Sunday’s avalanche took place on the Marmolada, which at more than 3,300 meters is the highest peak in the Dolomites, a chain in the eastern Italian Alps straddling the regions of Trento and Veneto.

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“This is the first such accident in the history of the mountain,” said Gino Comelli, who was helping coordinate rescue efforts.

The peak was too unstable for rescuers to attempt to approach on foot, Comelli said, adding that recent warm weather had been a factor in the collapse.

Pope Francis said he was praying for the victims and their families.

“The tragedies we are experiencing with climate change should urgently compel us to seek new paths that are respectful of people and nature,” he said on Twitter.

The summit of Punta Rocca is seen after parts of the Marmolada Glacier collapsed in the Italian Alps amid record high temperatures, killing at least six people and injuring several, on the ridge in Marmolada, Italy, July 4, 2022. REUTERS/Borut Zivulovic

Four victims were identified on Monday, three of them Italian, including two mountain guides, and another from the Czech Republic, AGI news agency reported, citing rescue workers.

Rising average temperatures have caused the Marmolada glacier, like many others around the world, to shrink steadily over the past few decades.

“The collapse of the Marmolada glacier is a natural disaster directly linked to climate change,” said Poul Christoffersen, professor of glaciology at the University of Cambridge.

“High altitude glaciers such as the Marmolada are often steep and depend on cold temperatures below zero degrees Celsius to keep them stable,” he said.

“Catastrophic meltdowns of glaciers like this are becoming more frequent.”

Luca Biagini, a former Alpine Guides manager, however, said the disaster was “unpredictable, nothing could make us expect something like this”.

He added that high temperatures were a big factor but there had been warmer seasons in the past, including a record summer in 2003.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and the head of the national civil protection agency were due to visit the region later on Monday.

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Written by Giulia Segreti Editing by Keith Weir and Janet Lawrence

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