Body parts and equipment found on Italian glacier after avalanche

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CANAZEI, Italy — Rescuers found body parts and gear as they searched for missing hikers on Tuesday following a powerful avalanche that killed at least seven people and was blamed largely on rising temperatures that made melt the glaciers.

Officials initially feared 13 hikers were still missing after a huge chunk of the Marmolada glacier split off in northern Italy on Sunday. But the province of Trento on Tuesday reduced the number of missing people to five, all Italian, after eight others registered with authorities.

One of them is Erica Campagnaro, and on Tuesday her sister Debora Campagnaro denounced the lack of warning about the accumulation of water at the base of the glacier which experts said was evidence of a melt. unusual due to a searing heat wave. Italy for weeks.

Campagnaro said his sister and brother-in-law, an experienced alpine guide who is also among the missing, would never have left their two sons at home to hike if there had been an alert system as there are during the ski season. possibility of snow avalanches.

“Is there an authority that must have prevented people (from going up the mountain) given the weather that day and the weather of the previous days? Where is that authority?” she asked on the relief camp site.

Rain had hampered the search on Monday, but sunny weather on Tuesday allowed helicopters to bring more rescue teams and their drones to the site of the glacier, east of Bolzano in the Dolomite mountains, even then that the hope of finding someone alive has faded.

“Let’s be clear, finding someone alive with this type of event is a very remote, very remote possibility, because the mechanical action of this type of avalanche has a very big impact on people,” Alex said. Barattin from the Alpine Rescue Service. .

After the 200-meter-wide chunk of glacier broke away, a torrent of ice, rocks and debris swept down the mountainside onto unsuspecting hikers below. At least seven people were killed, including two Czechs, officials said.

Nicola Casagli, a geologist and avalanche specialist at the University of Florence, said the impact of the glacier’s collapse on hikers was bigger than just a snow avalanche and would have taken them completely by surprise.

“These types of events, which are avalanches of ice and debris, are impulsive, rapid and unpredictable phenomena, reaching very high speeds and involving large masses,” he said. “And there’s no chance of getting safe or perceiving the problem ahead of time, because by the time you perceive it, you’ve already been hit.

Associated Press photos, taken during a helicopter survey of the site, showed a gaping hole in the glacier as if the blue-gray ice had been carved out by a giant ice cream scoop.

The ground was still so unstable that rescue teams stayed to the side and used drones to try to find remains or signs of life while helicopters searched overhead, some using equipment to detect the cell pings.

Maurizio Dellantonio, national president of the Alpine Rescue Service, said teams found body parts, hiking gear and clothing on the surface of the debris, evidence of the avalanche’s powerful impact on hikers.

“We have recovered so many fragments over the past two days. They are very painful for those who pick them up. and then for those who have to analyze them,” he says. “Personally, I can only think that what we found on the surface will be the same as what we find below, when the ice melts or when it digs in, if there is any chance.

Late Tuesday, he said technical teams had determined it was safe enough for ground rescuers to begin searching the lowest part of the debris, about 700 meters below the detachment site, where drones were not operating. not well anyway.

Authorities have closed all access routes and chairlifts to the glacier for hikers, fearing continued instability and the possibility of more chunks of ice breaking off.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who visited the Canazei rescue base on Monday, acknowledged that the avalanches are unpredictable but that the tragedy “definitely depends on the deterioration of the climatic situation”.

Italy is in the midst of an early summer heat wave, coupled with the worst drought in northern Italy in 70 years, which prompted the government to declare a state of emergency in five northern regions. Experts say there has been exceptionally little snow during the winter, exposing glaciers in the Italian Alps more to the heat and melting of summer.

“So we are in the worst conditions for a detachment of this kind, when there is so much heat and so much water flowing at the base,” said Renato Colucci of the Institute of Polar Sciences of the National Council of the research, or CNR.

The CNR has estimated that the Marmolada glacier could disappear entirely in the next 25 to 30 years if current climate trends continue, given that it lost 30% of its volume and 22% of its surface area between 2004 and 2015. .

Maurizio Fugatti, president of the autonomous province of Trento, however, insisted that Sunday’s detachment was an “exceptional event, unique in its kind”, when asked why hikers such as Campagnaro and her husband had been allowed on the glacier.

“There were a lot of alpine guides on this side (of the glacier), people who know the situation very well,” he said. “On the other hand, we can understand the feeling of relatives and friends of those affected.”

Casagli said what happened on Marmolada was unusual, but said such destructive avalanches will become more frequent as global temperatures continue to rise.

“The fact that this happened in a scorching summer with abnormal temperatures should be a wake-up call to understand that these phenomena, although rare, are possible,” he told reporters. “If we don’t take decisive action to counter the effects of climate change, they will become more and more frequent.”

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Winfield reported from Rome.

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