Authorities say another eight hikers were injured following a fall of ice, snow and rock on popular trail in the Dolomites.
At least six people, including a Czech tourist, have died after a large chunk of alpine glacier broke loose and slid down a mountainside in Italy.
Gianpaolo Bottacin, a local civil protection official, said the situation was “evolving” and that there could be perhaps 15 people missing.
Among the missing, there are certainly Italians, Germans, Czechs, and Romanians.
In the late evening, the National Alpine and Cave Rescue Corps tweeted a phone number to call for family or friends in case of “failure to return from possible excursions” to the glacier.
Rescuers were checking number plates in the car park as part of checks to determine how many people might be unaccounted for, a process that could take hours, said Walter Milan, a spokesman for the Corps.
It had earlier tweeted that the ongoing search of the peak involved rescue dogs and at least five helicopters, but the operation was paused on Sunday night amid fears that more of the glacier could come away.
The rescue corps had said the hikers were “hit by the detachment of the serac”, using a term for a pinnacle of a glacier. “There are eight injured, two of them in grave condition.”
“There were unrecognizable, disfigured bodies … on the other hand, the fallen mass is enormous and has devastating effects,” says Alex Barattin, head of the Belluno Alpine Rescue who flew to the site of the disaster.
“The size of the detachment is exceptional: about 200 meters the front that came down for a kilometer and a half at about 300 km per hour, expanding to 400 meters in width”, he adds.
Marmolada, which is about 3,300 meters high, is the tallest peak in the eastern Dolomites.
It was not immediately clear what caused the section of ice to break away but the intense heatwave that has gripped Italy since late June could be a factor, said Milan.
“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, he said. “Clearly it’s something abnormal.”
The injured were flown to several hospitals in the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto, according to rescue services.