Rescuers found body parts and equipment as they searched Tuesday for hikers missing following a powerful avalanche that killed at least seven people and is being blamed in large part on rising temperatures that are melting glaciers.
Officials initially feared 13 hikers were still missing, but the province of Trento on Tuesday reduced the number of people unaccounted-for to five, after eight others checked in with authorities.
Rain hampered the search Monday, but sunny weather on Tuesday allowed helicopters to bring more rescue teams up to the site on the Marmolada glacier, east of Bolzano in the Dolomite mountains, even as hopes dimmed of finding anyone alive.
A huge chunk of the glacier cleaved off Sunday, sparking an avalanche that sent torrents of ice, rock and debris plowing down the mountainside onto unsuspecting hikers below. At least seven people were killed, officials said.
“We have to be clear, finding someone alive with this type of event is a very remote possibility, very remote, because the mechanical action of this type of avalanche has a very big impact on people,” said Alex Barattin of the Alpine Rescue Service.
Nicola Casagli, a geologist and avalanche expert at Florence University, said the impact of the glacier collapse on the hikers was greater than a mere snow avalanche and would have taken them completely by surprise.
“These types of events, which are ice and debris avalanches, are impulsive, rapid, unpredictable phenomena, reaching very high speeds and involving large masses,” he said. “And there is no chance of getting to safety or perceiving the problem in advance, because by the time you perceive it, you’ve already been hit.”
Associated Press photos, taken during a helicopter survey of the site, showed a gaping hole in the glacier as if carved out of the blue-gray ice by a giant ice cream scooper.
The terrain was still so unstable that rescue crews were staying off to the side and using drones to try to find any survivors or signs of life while helicopters searched overhead, some using equipment to detect cellular pings. Two rescuers remained on site overnight, and were joined by more rescuers Tuesday morning. (PBS)