An avalanche triggered by the collapse of the largest glacier in the Italian Alps killed at least six people and injured eight others on Sunday, according to local emergency services.
Up to 15 people are currently missing.
The glacier collapsed on Mount Marmolada, the highest in the world Italian Dolomitesnear the hamlet of Punta Rocca, on the path usually taken to reach its summit.
The disaster came a day after a record temperature of 10 degrees Celsius was recorded at the summit of the glacier.
“A snow, ice and rock avalanche hit an access route when there were several rope teams, some of which were swept away,” rescue service spokeswoman Michela Canova told AFP.
Two of the injured were taken to the Belluno hospital, another in a more serious condition to Treviso and five to Trento.
“The total number of climbers involved is not yet known,” Canova said, without specifying the nationalities of the victims.
Helicopters rushed to take part in the rescue and monitor the situation from the air. Rescuers in the nearby Veneto region of north-east Italy said they deployed all of their alpine teams, including sniffer dogs.
Further glacier collapses are feared
Pictures taken from a shelter near the incident show snow and rocks cascading down the mountain’s slopes, making a thunderous noise.
Other footage, taken by tourists with their cellphones, showed the grisly avalanche sweeping away everything in its path.
The mountain rescue team released images showing rescue workers and helicopters on the ground transporting victims from the valley to the village of Canazei.
Their task was made more difficult because the bodies were trapped under a layer of ice and rock. A team of psychologists was made available to support the victims’ families.
Experts quoted by the daily Corriere della Sera said they feared more ice collapses.
Glacier specialist Renato Colucci told Italian agency AGI that the phenomenon would “certainly repeat itself” because “high-altitude temperatures in the Alps have been well above normal for weeks”.
The recent warm temperatures have produced a large amount of water from the melting glacier, which has pooled at the bottom of the ice block and caused it to collapse, he added.
The Marmolada Glacier is the largest in the Dolomites, which are part of the Italian Alps and lie on the north face of the Marmolada.
Nicknamed the “Queen of the Dolomites,” the glacier feeds the Avisio River and overlooks Lake Fedaia in the autonomous Italian province of Trento.
Melting ice and snow is a major threat worldwide
Ice acts as a protective covering over the earth and our oceans. The WWF explains that these bright white patches reflect excess heat back into space, keeping the planet cooler.
So, in theory, the Arctic stays colder than the equator because more of the sun’s heat is reflected off the ice back into space.
About 10 percent of the earth’s land surface is covered with glacial ice. Almost 90 percent of it is in Antarcticawhile the remaining 10 percent are in the Greenland Icecap.
As the ice on land melts, sea levels will continue to rise.
According to a March report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), melting ice and snow is one of 10 major threats caused by global warming that disrupt ecosystems and infrastructure.
According to the IPCC, glaciers in Scandinavia, Central Europe and the Caucasus could lose between 60 and 80 percent of their mass by the end of the century.
The traditional way of life of people like the Sami in Finland Lapland, which raises reindeer, has already been affected.
Thawing permafrost is also hampering economic activity in Canada and Russia.