ROME (AP) — A large chunk of an Alpine glacier broke off Sunday afternoon and rumbled down a mountainside in Italy, pelting ice, snow and rock on hikers on a popular summit trail, killing at least six people and injuring eight, authorities said.
It was not immediately clear how many hikers were in the area or missing, said Walter Milan, a spokesman for the national Alpine rescue corps, which gave the number of dead and injured.
Milan said by phone that rescuers were checking license plates in the parking lot to determine how many people might be unaccounted for, a process that could take hours.
“We saw dead (people) and huge pieces of ice and rock,” a tired-looking rescuer Luigi Felicetti told Italian state television.
The nationalities or ages of the dead were not immediately available, Milan said. Of the eight survivors hospitalized, two are in critical condition, emergency dispatch services said.
Local online media site ildolomiti.it reported that the fast-moving avalanche “came down with a roar that could be heard from far away”.
Earlier, the National Alpine and Cave Rescue Corps tweeted that at least five helicopters and rescue dogs were involved in the search of the affected area of Marmolada Peak.
The SUEM dispatch service in the nearby Veneto region said 18 people above the ice-hit area would be evacuated by the Alpine rescue corps.
But Milan said that some people on the slopes can descend themselves by using the summit’s cable car.
SUEM said the avalanche consisted of a “fall of snow, ice and rock”. The separated part is known as the serrac or the tip of the ice.
Rising to around 3,300 meters (about 11,000 feet), Marmola is the highest peak in the eastern Dolomites, offering spectacular views of other Alpine peaks.
The alpine rescue service said in a tweet that the segment was cut off near Punta Rocca (Rock Point), “along the route normally used to reach the summit”.
It was not immediately clear what caused the chunk of ice to break off and rush down the slope of the peak. But the intense heat wave that has gripped Italy since late June may be a factor.
Maurizio Fugatti, president of the province of Trento, which borders Marmolada, told Sky TG24 news agency that “these days’ temperatures have clearly influenced the partial collapse of the glacier.”
But Milan stressed that high temperatures, which have soared to an unusually high 10 C (50 F) on Marmolada’s summit in recent days, were only one possible factor in Sunday’s tragedy.
“There are many factors that can be involved,” Milan said. Avalanches are generally unpredictable, he said, and the effect of heat on the glacier is “even more impossible to predict.”
In separate comments to Italian state television, Milan called the recent temperatures “extremely hot” for the summit. “Obviously, this is something abnormal.”
According to rescue services, the injured were taken to several hospitals in the Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto regions.
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