Seven climbers have been killed and a further 14 are missing after a glacier collapsed and sparked an avalanche in northern Italy, with scientists saying the incident showed the consequences of climate change in the region.
Rescuers were searching on Monday for those unaccounted for after the collapse of the glacier on the Marmolada, the highest peak in the Dolomite range. Experts said Sunday’s disaster, near the town of Canazei, was the worst of its kind in decades. A further eight were injured in the incident.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi travelled to the Alps on Monday and said the government must “reflect on what happened” as he expressed his condolences to the families of those killed.
“This is a [tragedy] that surely has some unforeseeable [elements], but it surely also depends on the deterioration of the environmental and climate situation,” Draghi said in Canazei.
Experts said record high temperatures this season have been a factor in accelerating the melting of ice on the 3,300m-high Marmolada, which is known as “the queen of the Dolomites”.
Rescuers told reporters on Sunday that temperatures had reached more than 10C near the peak of the mountain on Sunday, which was “abnormal”.
On Monday the chief of the Italian glaciology institute, Massimo Frezzotti, told local media that at dawn temperatures in the area close to the collapse were already above 6C.
Frezzotti said the Marmolada peak had lost 80 per cent of its ice over the past century, with most of the loss taking place since 1980.
Aldino Bondesan, a glaciology professor at the University of Padova, said as ice melted from the mountain’s peak there was nothing left to prevent pieces of the glacier from breaking away and plunging down the slope.
“We are observing an ice melting pace that is happening two or three times as fast as 20 years ago,” he said.
According to studies by the Italian National Council for Research (CNR), the Marmolada glacier will have melted by 2050 due to the effects of climate change.
Like other parts of Europe, Italy has been experiencing extremely high temperatures. In Milan and the rest of the Lombardy region, where it has barely rained in months, temperatures reached 38C on Sunday.
The country’s worst drought in more than 70 years is causing severe economic damage to agriculture. Local authorities are trying to mitigate its impact with water rationing and other contingency measures.
The River Po, which flows from the Alps, has reached unusually low levels, causing alarm in the Po valley that supports the economically important cities of Milan, Turin and Bologna.
Draghi will hold a cabinet meeting on Monday evening to declare a state of emergency in areas of the country that have been most affected by the drought.
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