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

At least six people are dead and eight others injured after an ice avalanche in the Italian Alps on Sunday, local officials said, as rescue workers combed Mount Marmolada for at least 19 hikers missing.

Italy’s National Alpine and Cave Rescue Corps said five helicopters and canine units had been stationed in the area, although it raised concerns more snow, ice and rocks could fall.

The local news agency ANSA announced on Monday that eleven Italians, four Czechs, three Romanians and one French were among the missing.

The landslide occurred during an early heat wave that has seen temperatures soar to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit in recent days on the Marmolada. Rescuers said the heat was “abnormal,” the Guardian newspaper reported.

Experts have long warned that avalanches will become more frequent as global temperatures rise, saying warming can destabilize mountain climates and accelerate melting of glaciers.

“Fortunately, weather conditions are good, but there is a risk that more collapses could occur,” a spokesman told Reuters after Italian state television reported that rescuers saw dead people next to “enormous chunks of ice”.

The glacier collapse happened near Punta Rocca, a route climbers use to reach the summit, Veneto regional governor Luca Zaia said as the alpine rescue unit shared an emergency number that people could call when their loved ones weren’t had returned from trips to the region.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi expressed his condolences and thanked the emergency services. Officials estimated on Monday that up to 16 people could have been swept away in the collapse.

At around 3,000 meters, the Marmolada is the highest peak in the eastern Dolomites – a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site whose age is estimated at over 200 million years. The Marmolada is known as the “Queen of the Dolomites” and is an area popular with nature and adventure lovers.

A report this year by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change outlined the devastating effects of climate change, including irreversible glacier loss by the end of this century.

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

“Future warming is expected to further amplify rain-on-snow events … affecting hydropower and leading to river flooding, avalanches and landslides,” the document said, adding that climate change is affecting snow, ice and permafrost to melt and shrink.

The increased risk of such dangers is forcing populations in mountainous regions to relocate, leading to mass displacement in countries such as Thailand, Afghanistan and Peru.

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

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