Thunderstorms hamper search for hikers missing after deadly Marmolada glacier avalanche

·2 min read

The search for more than a dozen hikers who are still missing a day after a huge chunk of an Alpine glacier in Italy broke off is being hampered by thunderstorms.

Rescuers said conditions downslope from the Marmolada glacier were still too unstable to send back teams of people and dogs to dig into tonnes of debris.

And a thunderstorm forced the helicopter flying Prime Minister Mario Draghi to the stricken area to be diverted.

Seven people are now known to have died after the avalanche of ice, snow, and rocks on Sunday afternoon.

Nine others were injured, while drones have been deployed to search for those unaccounted for.

Trento prosecutor Sandro Raimondi said 17 hikers were initially believed to be missing.

But later, RAI state TV reported from the scene that the number unaccounted for had dropped to 15 after authorities were able to track down some of those feared missing.

At least four bodies, brought to a makeshift morgue at an ice rink in Canazei in the Dolomites, have been identified.

RAI said three of those were Italians, including an experienced Alpine guide who was leading a group of hikers.

Another was a hiker whose relatives said had sent a selfie from the slope shortly before the avalanche.

One of the dead was from the Czech Republic, RAI said.

According to reports, those feared missing include some Italians, three Romanians, one with French nationality, another from Austria, and four from the Czech Republic.

Temperatures 'absolutely an anomaly'

Veneto regional governor Luca Zaia said some of those hiking in the area on Sunday were roped together as they climbed.

What caused part of the glacier to break off and thunder down the slope at a speed estimated by experts at nearly 200mph is not immediately known.

But the heatwave gripping Italy since May, bringing temperatures unusually high for the start of summer even up in the normally cooler Alps, was being cited as a likely factor.

Jacopo Gabrieli, a polar sciences researcher at Italy's state-run CNR research centre, said the temperatures were "absolutely an anomaly".

Alpine rescuers on Sunday noted that late last week, the temperature on the 3,300-metre high peak had topped 10C (50F), far higher than usual.

The glacier, in the Marmolada range, is the largest in the Dolomite mountains in northeastern Italy. It is popular with skiers in the winter.

But it has been rapidly melting away over the past decades, with much of its volume gone.

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