Drone search resumes on Italian glacier after avalanche

CANAZEI, Italy (AP) – Rescuers using drones resumed the search for an estimated 13 missing hikers on Tuesday – after an avalanche in northern Italy that killed at least seven people and is attributed in large part to rising temperatures melting glaciers.

After rain hampered the search on Monday, sunny weather on Tuesday allowed helicopters to bring more rescue teams to the site on the Marmolada glacier, east of Bolzano in the Dolomites.

A huge chunk of glacier split off on Sunday, triggering an avalanche that sent torrents of ice, rock and debris down the mountainside at unsuspecting hikers. At least seven people were killed and an estimated 13 remain missing, officials said.

The terrain is still so unstable that rescue crews stayed aside and used drones to try and find survivors while helicopters searched overhead, some using devices to detect cellphone pings. Two rescuers stayed overnight and were joined by more rescuers on Tuesday morning.

“We continue the work of the drones to find survivors and work the areas that we could not monitor yesterday,” Matteo Gasperini of the Alpine Rescue Service told Sky TG24. “We will try to complete the work of monitoring the entire site.”

Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who visited the rescue base in Canazei on Monday, acknowledged that avalanches are unpredictable but that the tragedy “certainly depends on the worsening of the climate situation”.

Italy is in the midst of an early summer heatwave coupled with the worst drought in northern Italy in 70 years. Experts say the winter saw unusually little snowfall, leaving glaciers in the Italian Alps more exposed to summer heat and melt.

“So we’re in the worst conditions for such a department, with so much heat and so much water running at the base,” said Renato Colucci of the Institute of Polar Sciences of the State Council for National Research, or CNR: “We’re not in that yet.” Able to understand if it was a deep or superficial detachment, but the size appears to be very large judging from the preliminary images and information we received.”

The CNR estimates that the Marmolada glacier could disappear completely in the next 25-30 years if current climate trends continue, having lost 30% of its volume and 22% of its area between 2004 and 2015.

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Winfield reported from Rome.

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