Italy’s PM blames global warming for deadly collapse of Alpine glaciers

Global warming has caused the deadly collapse of the country’s largest alpine glacier, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Monday, as the likelihood of survivors emerging from the rubble of the disaster fades.

Seven people were killed, eight injured and 14 others missing, authorities said, warning it was unclear how many climbers were captured when the glacier gave way on Sunday.

Ice and rock swept down the Marmolada, the highest mountain in the Italian Dolomites, at 300 km/h (185 mph), according to the head of the province of Trento, Maurizio Fugatti.

Rescuers used thermal drones to seek heat from potential survivors, although the chances of finding them were “slim”, the head of the region’s Alpine Rescue Service, Giorgio Gajer, told AGI news agency. .

Bodies recovered so far were found “torn apart”, rescuer Gino Comelli said.

Disaster struck a day after a record temperature of 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) was recorded at the top of the glacier, the largest in the Italian Alps.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi said it was “undoubtedly linked to the deterioration of the environment and the climatic situation”.

Alpin Rescue spokeswoman Michela Canova told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that an “avalanche of snow, ice and rocks” hit an access path when there were several roped parties , “some of which were swept away”.

‘Heard a roar’

She said the total number of climbers involved was “not yet known”.

The civil protection agency said there were four cars missing at the base camp: two Czechs, one German and one Hungarian.

“I heard a roar, turned to my left and saw a mass of ice coming down the mountain,” ski instructor Luca Medici, 54, told AFP.

The bodies extracted from the ice and the rock were taken to the village of Canazei.

A physical search for the scene of the disaster was impossible on Monday due to fears the glacier was still unstable and helicopters could only fly part of the time due to bouts of bad weather.

“It’s difficult for rescuers in (such) a dangerous situation,” Canazei mayor Giovanni Bernard told AFP.

Footage of the avalanche filmed from a nearby shelter shows snow and rocks rolling down the slopes of the mountain.

“It’s a miracle that we are alive,” Stefano Dal Moro, an engineer who was hiking with his Israeli partner, told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

“There’s no point in running. You can only pray it doesn’t happen to you. We hunkered down and hugged each other as the ice went by.”

Temperatures “above normal”

Massimo Frezzotti, a science professor at Roma Tre University, told AFP the collapse was caused by abnormally hot weather linked to global warming. Last winter was very dry, with rainfall down 40-50%.

“The current state of the glacier is something we expect to see in mid-August, not early July,” he said.

Glacier specialist Renato Colucci told AGI the phenomenon was “bound to repeat itself” because “for weeks temperatures at high altitudes in the Alps have been well above normal values”.

Recent warm temperatures have generated a large amount of water from melting glaciers. It had collected at the bottom of the block of ice and caused it to crumble, he added.

Pope Francis tweeted his prayers for the victims, saying that climate change-induced tragedies such as this, “must compel us to urgently seek new ways of respecting people and nature.”

The Trento public prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation to determine the causes of the tragedy.

United Nations scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in March that melting ice and snow were among the top 10 threats caused by global warming, disrupting ecosystems and infrastructure.

Jonathan Bamber, director of the University of Bristol’s Center for Glaciology, said declining glaciers “make Europe’s high mountains an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable environment”.

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Teresa H. Sadler