At least six people hiking along a popular Alpine trail in northeastern Italy were killed on Sunday when a large chunk of glacier broke loose.
The pouring down of ice, snow and rock slammed into a group hiking in the Dolomites, killing six of them and injuring eight others, according to the authorities.
It could not be determined how many were in the area at the time or whether any were missing, according to a spokesperson for the national Alpine rescue corps.
Walter Milan, the spokesperson, said that rescuers were now checking license plates in the car park to figure out how many people might be missing – a process that could take hours.
It was also not possible to state the nationalities or ages of the dead, Mr Milan added. He said that of the eight in hospital two were in a grave condition.
Helicopters and rescue dogs were involved in the search around the area of the Marmolada peak, according to the National Alpine and Cave Rescue Corps.
The emergency dispatch service said that 18 people who were above the area where the ice struck will be evacuated by the Alpine rescue corps.
“A breaking away of rock provoked the opening of a crevasse on the glacier, leaving about 15 people involved,” the emergency dispatchers said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the section of ice to break away and rush down the peak’s slope.
However the intense heatwave gripping Italy since late June could be a factor, Mr Milan told RAI state TV.
“The heat is unusual,” Milan said, noting that temperatures in recent days on the peak had topped 10C.
“That’s extreme heat” for the peak, Mr Milan said. “Clearly it’s something abnormal.”
The rescue services said that those who were injured were flown to several hospitals in the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto.