Tuesday, September 27

Eight dead and 13 missing in the Alpine tragedy: “It’s a carnage”


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It has been an unprecedented tragedy in the Alps. The high temperatures caused on Sunday afternoon the detachment of a part of the glacier causing «a butchery», according to the expression used by the prosecutor of Trento, Sandro Raimondi. The last balance was seven dead and 14 missing, with very little hope of finding any alive, according to rescue teams. The detachment occurred in the Marmolada, the highest mountain in the Dolomites, Eastern Alps, at 3,343 meters, between Punta Penia, which is the highest peak, and Punta Rocca (3,265 m). The heat caused a gigantic block of ice to break off the glacier. The avalanche of snow, ice and rocks, with a front of more than 200 meters and a height of fifty meters it rushed into the valley, encroaching on the two-square-kilometre area once occupied by the now-disappeared ice front.

On Sunday, the highest temperature of the season had been reached in that area, with 10.3 degrees Celsius. This heat made the structure of the glacier more unstable, with climate change playing a fundamental role. The famous mountaineer Reinhold Messner has explained the dynamics of the tragedy: «The ice of the Marmolada is very thin and certainly the global warming influenced this landslide, but the mountain is always dangerous. There is always the risk of large blocks of ice falling. Because of the heat, streams form under the thin ice; then the detachment of huge blocks of ice can occur. I have been going to the mountains for decades -adds the climber Messner-, if before there was a landslide in a year, now there are five times more. And when the avalanche falls, as it has now, it takes with it huge boulders of rock and ice, as big as houses, which then get smaller and smaller and break into thousands of pieces.”

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The rescue teams have had difficulty in their tasks, due to the risk of a new detachment. With difficulty they describe the terrible images that were found. A rescuer explained: “The avalanche has been an unimaginable disaster, a carnage; It will be difficult to identify the victims, because the bodies are mangled.” Another lifeguard, Luigi Felicetti, from Rescate Alpino, commented: «What torment to see the corpses among the blocks of ice and rocks; Never in years had I seen anything like it.”

The Marmolada glacier will disappear

The avalanche of ice released from the Marmolada does not surprise the experts too much. The causes are explained by the glaciologist Roberto Colucci, from the Italian National Research Council (CNR): «The detachment of the great ice block of Marmolada occurred for several reasons, a long-term one, attributable to global warming: the glacier is shrinking and therefore increasingly fragile. Added to this is the fact that this year there has been little snow, so little residual snow remains to protect the glacier from the summer heat; In addition, there have been weeks and weeks in which we have recorded extraordinarily high temperatures, well above the normal averages for June and July,” says the glaciologist Colucci, who is sure that “it will happen again” the detachment of part of the glacier.

Three years ago, at the end of years of study on the Marmolada, this was Colucci’s conclusion: “Fate remains marked, even if temperatures remain as they are: In 25-30 years, the Marmolada glacier will no longer be there”. Now glaciologist Colucci goes much further, in a statement to La Repubblica: “At this speed, it will probably disappear sooner. And the most general projection, for the year 2100, indicates that in the best of cases we will lose 70% of the alpine glaciers, in the worst 96%. Below 3,500 metres, however, in twenty years there will be nothing left because glaciers such as Marmolada are now in total imbalance”, concludes Roberto Colucci. For his part, the Venetian glaciologist sounds the alarm: “What happened in Marmolada is a sign of what could happen in larger scenarios, in the Western Alps.”

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The worst drought in 70 years

Drought and accelerated melting of glaciers are two sides of the same drama. The Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, who went to the Civil Protection Coordination Center of Canazei, a municipality near Marmolada, sounded the alarm last Thursday by pointing out that the Padana plain, crossed by the Po River, the largest in the peninsula , suffers the worst drought in 70 years. “I am here to express the most sincere, affectionate and heartfelt closeness to the families of the victims, the disappeared, the injured and the communities affected by this tragedy. This is a drama that has unpredictability and certainly depends on the deterioration of the environment and the weather situation. The Government must reflect on what has happened and must take measures, so that what has happened has a very low probability of happening or can even be avoided, “said Draghi.

Other Italian regions also suffer from drought, as is the case of Lazio. The president of this region, Nicola Zingaretti, has declared a state of natural disaster. With the unrelenting heat, Rome risks losing in the short term even its largest water reserve, Lake Bracciano. Its level continues to drop and, if it continues like this, in mid-July, it will no longer be able to supply the capital.

The mayors of the municipalities on the shores of Lake Bracciano, already affected by the 2017 water crisis, have issued ordinances that prohibit the use of water to irrigate orchards and gardens, fill swimming pools, wash vehicles and exterior pavements, with penalties for offenders of up to 500 euros.

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Given the emergency that has been declared in various regions, this afternoon the Council of Ministers meets to approve support measures for the most affected areas.

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