At least six people have died after a large stretch of alpine glacier broke loose and slid down a mountain slope in Italy.
The collapse on Sunday afternoon sent ice, snow and rocks hitting hikers on a popular trail on Marmolada peak, killing at least six and injuring eight, authorities said.
Gianpaolo Bottacin, a local civil defense officer, said the situation is “evolving” and there may be 15 people missing.
Late in the evening, the National Alpine and Cave Rescue Corps tweeted a phone number to call family or friends in the event of “not returning from possible excursions” to the glacier.
Rescuers checked license plates in the parking lot as part of checks to determine how many people could be missing, a process that could take hours, said Walter Milan, a spokesman for the force.
It had previously tweeted that the ongoing search for the peak involved rescue dogs and at least five helicopters, but the operation was paused Sunday night over fears more could disappear from the glacier.
Rescuers had said the hikers had been “hit by the serac’s detachment,” using a term for a peak of a glacier. “Eight people have been injured, two of them in serious condition.”
The SUEM service (Servizio Urgenza Emergenza Medica), based in the nearby Veneto region, said 18 people who were above the area where the ice hit would be evacuated by the rescue corps.
The control room said the avalanche consisted of “crashed snow, ice and rock”.
Marmolada, which is about 3,300 meters (11,000 feet) high, is the highest peak in the Eastern Dolomites.
“The breaking away of a boulder created a crevasse, involving about 15 people,” the emergency services tweeted.
The alpine rescue service said in a tweet that the segment broke off near Punta Rocca (Rock Point), “along the route normally used to reach the summit”.
It was not immediately clear what caused the ice to break, but the intense heat wave that has gripped Italy since late June could be a factor, Milan said.
“The heat is unusual,” Milan said, noting that temperatures had surpassed 10C (50F) at peak in recent days. “That’s extreme heat” for the peak, he said. “It’s clearly something abnormal.”
The injured were flown to several hospitals in the Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto regions, according to rescue services.