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Italian valley evacuated as cathedral-sized glacier slips

Reuters logo Reuters 8/7/2020
a man standing on a rocky hill: A segment of the Planpincieux glacier is seen on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc, in Aosta © Reuters/FONDAZIONE MONTAGNA SICURA A segment of the Planpincieux glacier is seen on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc, in Aosta

COURMAYEUR, Italy (Reuters) - A melting glacier as large as a cathedral is at risk of breaking apart due to a heatwave, forcing the evacuation of part of an Italian alpine valley.

a man on a rocky hill: A combo shows a segment of the Planpincieux glacier on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc, in Aosta © Reuters/FONDAZIONE MONTAGNA SICURA A combo shows a segment of the Planpincieux glacier on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc, in Aosta

The alarm was raised on Wednesday afternoon when experts in helicopters realised that the Planpincieux glacier, at an altitude of about 2,800 metres in the Ferret Valley in the Mont Blanc massif, was slipping dangerously.

a close up of a rock mountain: In this still image taken from video a segment of the Planpincieux glacier is seen on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc in Aosta © Reuters/REUTERS TV In this still image taken from video a segment of the Planpincieux glacier is seen on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc in Aosta

A heatwave has created a layer of water under the glacier, which is made up of about 500 cubic metres of ice - roughly the size of the Milan cathedral - making it more prone to a break.

"There is an enormous block of ice resting on the rock and the danger is that it could detach in an instant," glacier expert Fabrizio Troilo told the Corriere della Sera newspaper's website.

About 75 residents and tourists in homes or hotels in hamlets in the threatened part of the valley were evacuated and police threw up roadblocks to prevent others from entering.

The threatened part of the valley was divided into a "red zone" that could take a direct hit and a "yellow zone" that could suffer from shock waves caused by the displacement of air and other secondary effects.

a rocky mountain: A segment of the Planpincieux glacier is seen on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc, in Aosta © Reuters/FONDAZIONE MONTAGNA SICURA A segment of the Planpincieux glacier is seen on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc, in Aosta

Many tourists in parts of the valley not directly threatened by an eventual collapse had already opted to leave, local officials said.

"The season was going well despite the COVID pandemic," Jacopo Nitri, who owns a small hotel in the area, told the Corriere. "I had to send away 25 clients and cancel some reservations. If the situation is not resolved in the next few days it will be a disaster."

A similar evacuation took place last September when the same glacier showed signs of instability and lasted several days.

a close up of a rocky mountain: In this still image taken from video a segment of the Planpincieux glacier is seen on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc in Aosta © Reuters/REUTERS TV In this still image taken from video a segment of the Planpincieux glacier is seen on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc in Aosta

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alison Williams)

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