Melting Glacier Splits, Killing Hikers in Alps

At least 6 people died in the avalanche, and more are injured or missing
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 3, 2022 3:25 PM CDT
Glacier Splits, Causing Avalanche That Killed Hikers
This image released on Sunday by the Italian National Alpine and Cave Rescue Corps shows the glacier in Italy's Alps near Trento where ice broke loose, sparking an avalanche.   (Corpo Nazionale Soccorso Alpino e Speleologico via AP)

A large chunk of an Alpine glacier broke loose Sunday afternoon and roared down a mountainside in Italy, sending ice, snow, and rock slamming into hikers on a popular trail on the peak and killing at least six people and injuring eight, authorities said. There could be about 10 people missing, Civil Protection official Gianpaolo Bottacin was quoted as saying by the online version of Italian daily Corriere della Sera. But Bottacin later told state television that it wasn't yet possible to provide a firm number, the AP reports.

The glacier, in the Marmolada range, is the largest in the Dolomite mountains in northeastern Italy, and people ski there in the winter. But the glacier has been rapidly melting away in recent years. Experts at Italy's state-run CNR research center, which has a polar sciences institute, says the glacier will cease to exist in the next 25-30 years, and most of its volume is already gone. The Mediterranean basin, shared by southern Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa, has been identified by UN experts as a “climate change hot spot," likely to suffer heat waves and water shortages, among other consequences. By Sunday evening, officials were still working to determine just how many hikers were in the area when the ice avalanche struck, said Walter Milan, a spokesperson for the national Alpine rescue corps.

Rescuers were checking license plates in the parking lot as part of checks to determine how many people might be unaccounted for, a process that could take hours, Milan said by telephone. "We saw dead (people) and enormous chunks of ice, rock,'' rescuer Luigi Felicetti told Italian state TV. Of the eight hospitalized survivors, two were in grave condition, authorities said. The fast-moving avalanche "came down with a roar the could be heard at great distance,'' local online media site said. But Milan stressed that high heat, which soared unusually above 50 F on Marmolada's peak in recent days, was only one possible factor in the avalanche. "There are so many factors that could be involved,'' Milan said, per the AP.

(Read more Alps stories.)

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