Regional president Maurizio Fugatti said up to 14 people were also injured when a large chunk broke off the Marmolata mountain glacier on Sunday and fell into the valley below.
Five helicopters and several dog teams were deployed to search for victims buried under masses of ice, snow and rock.
One seriously injured person was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Treviso. Eighteen people who had been waiting to be rescued where the glacier had broken off were also flown down into the valley by helicopter.
Rescuers fear more victims will be found. ANSA news agency reported that around a dozen people were still missing on Sunday evening, citing sources involved with the rescue effort.
The agency quoted investigators as saying an “unimaginable bloodbath” had taken place on the mountain and that it would be difficult to establish victims’ identities because their bodies had been dismembered by snow and ice.
Fugatti said the owners of 16 cars parked in a car park at the foot of the mountain had not yet been located. It was not clear if the owners were missing, dead or had nothing to do with the accident, he said.
Rescue efforts were interrupted on Sunday evening amid fears that further parts of the glacier could collapse.
The avalanche also hit the ascent route to the 3343-metre-high mountain, which several people were climbing at the time.
A spokesperson for the Italian mountain rescue service said it was not immediately clear whether individual climbers had also been in the area in addition to several rope teams.
“We heard a loud noise, typical of a landslide,” a witness told ANSA. “After that we saw an avalanche of snow and ice tumbling towards the valley at high speed and we knew that something bad had happened.”
“When we arrived on site, we were presented with an unbelievable picture. There were blocks of ice and huge rocks everywhere. We then started looking for the people,” mountain rescuer Luigi Felicetti said.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi offered his condolences to the victims and their relatives.
While officials didn’t immediately comment on the potential cause of the accident, it is likely that the high temperatures recorded over the past weeks played a role.
According to media reports, a record 10 degrees Celsius was measured on the summit of the mountain on Saturday.
“I have never seen anything like this on the Marmolata. This was not a normal avalanche like in winter,” said a mountain rescuer. Comparing the accident to a building collapse, he described the glacier collapse as being due to “structural failure”.
Italy recorded far less precipitation than usual last winter, and the normal layer of snow – which protects the ice from the summer sun and warmer temperatures – is now absent from many glaciers.Jump to next article