ROME (AP) — Several drones flew over a mountainside in the Italian Alps on Monday to search for more victims, a day after several mountaineers were hit by an avalanche of ice, snow and rocks caused by the detachment of a huge piece of a rapidly melting glacier. At least six people were killed and an unknown number were missing.
Rescuers located six bodies on Sunday and found nine injured survivors. Attention turned to determining how many people might have been on Mount Marmolada and how many were still missing. Sixteen cars remained unclaimed in the area parking lot.
Authorities were trying to locate people through car license plates. It was unclear how many of the vehicles might belong to the already identified victims or the injured, all of whom were evacuated by helicopters to hospitals in northeastern Italy on Sunday.
After temporarily halting the search on Sunday night, authorities said there could be up to 15 missing, but stressed that the situation could still change.
Conditions on the glacier, which has been melting for decades, were still too unstable to send teams of people and dogs digging through tons of debris, rescuers said.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi and the director of Civil Protection were scheduled to visit Canazei on Monday, a tourist town in the Dolomites mountain range that has served as a base for rescuers.
Relatives of the victims were also expected to flock to the town to identify bodies when rescuers could safely remove them from the mountain.
It was not immediately clear what caused the section of ice to break off, hurtling down the side of the peak at about 300 kilometers (nearly 200 miles) per hour, according to expert estimates. But the intense heat wave that has affected Italy since May could be a factor.
Jacopo Gabrieli, a polar sciences researcher at the Italian state research center CNR, said the long heat wave was the strongest in northern Italy for that time of year in almost 20 years.
“It is absolutely an anomaly,” Gabrieli said Monday in an interview on Italian state television. Like other experts, he pointed out that it would have been impossible to predict a detachment of a serac – a block of glacier coverage – as occurred on Sunday.
Rising some 3,300 meters, Marmolada is the highest peak in the Eastern Dolomites, and the glacier is the largest in the range. Although people ski on it in winter, it has been melting rapidly for several decades and has lost much of its volume. Experts from the Italian research center CNR estimated a few years ago that the glacier would have disappeared in 25-30 years.
The Mediterranean Basin, which includes southern European countries such as Italy, has been identified by United Nations experts as a region that is likely to suffer heat waves and water scarcity, among other phenomena, associated with climate change.