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Ice avalanche kills 6 in Italian Alps, sparks mass rescue effort

The glacial ice that collapsed in the Dolomites, killing at least six people. (Pierre Teyssot/AFP/Getty Images)
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At least six people are dead and eight more have been injured following an ice avalanche in the Italian Alps on Sunday, local officials said, as emergency workers combed the Marmolada mountain for at least 19 missing hikers.

Italy’s National Alpine and Cave Rescue Corps said five helicopters and canine units had been deployed to the area, although it expressed concern that more snow, ice and rocks could fall.

Among the missing are 11 Italians, four Czech nationals, three Romanians and one French national, local news agency ANSA said Monday.

On July 4, rescue operations continued in the Italian Alps after parts of a mountain glacier collapsed killing at least six people and injuring eight. (Video: Reuters)

The slide occurred during an early heat wave that saw temperatures rise to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit on Marmolada in recent days. The rescue corps said the heat was “abnormal,” the Guardian newspaper reported.

Experts have long warned that avalanches are becoming more common as global temperatures rise, saying the warming can destabilize mountain climates and speed the melting of glaciers.

“Fortunately the weather conditions are good but the danger is that there could be further collapses,” a spokesperson told Reuters as Italian state television reported that rescuers had seen dead people alongside “enormous chunks of ice.”

The glacier collapse happened near Punta Rocca, a route climbers use to reach the top, Veneto regional governor Luca Zaia said as the Alpine rescue unit shared an emergency number people could call if their loved ones had failed to return from excursions in the area.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi offered condolences and thanked emergency workers. Officials estimated Monday that up to 16 people may have been swept away in the collapse.

Marmolada, which rises to about 11,000 feet, is the highest peak in the eastern Dolomites — a UNESCO world heritage site that is estimated to be more than 200 million years old. Marmolada is referred to as the “queen of the Dolomites,” an area popular with nature and adventure enthusiasts.

A report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this year outlined the devastating impact of climate change, including irreversible loss of glaciers by the end of this century.

“Mountain regions have always been affected by either too much or too little water,” the report said. “Because of climate change, hazards are changing rapidly and becoming even more unpredictable.”

Increased risk of such hazards is forcing populations in mountain regions to relocate, leading to mass displacement in countries such as Thailand, Afghanistan and Peru.

Italian officials said the injured were being treated in hospitals in the towns of Belluno, Treviso, Trento and Bolzano, Reuters reported.

Mountain glaciers may have less ice than estimated, straining freshwater supply

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