'Avalanche of Water' Kills 10 Italian Hikers in Narrow Gorge
Ten people were killed and 11 injured in a flash flood that filled a gorge in Italy's Pollino National Park following heavy rains on Monday, The Associated Press reported.
The victims were from two groups of hikers in the Raganello Gorge, which filled with up to 2.5 meters (approximately 8.2 feet) of water, mud and rocks that pushed some bodies as far as 8 kilometers (approximately 5 miles) downstream, BBC News reported.
"A real avalanche of water came unexpectedly. We did not have time to do anything. I was lucky, it was an incredible thing," a Dutch hiker told local media, according to The Guardian.
In total, 23 people were rescued, including four children who had lost one or both of their parents, The Associated Press reported. Some Dutch hikers were among the survivors, but Italian media reports said all the dead were Italian.
"Italy is tired of crying for the dead. Enough," environment minister Sergio Costa said, according to The Associated Press. "If what happened is the result of negligence, sloppiness or a lack of awareness of the risks, we are facing a serious situation that we need to get to the bottom of."
Italian prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into the deaths. The government has also asked for a separate administrative proceeding to see if any negligence caused the deaths.
Investigations will focus on whether weather warnings were issued correctly and whether access to the gorge should have been limited or cut off.
While meteorologists said heavy rains were common in the region during this time of year, rescue workers and park officials said flooding like this hadn't been seen in decades.
"Without a doubt, the event was of a weight we have not seen for many years. We are talking about at least ninety years ago," Pollino National Park President Domenico Pappaterra told Sky TG24, according to The Associated Press.
Pasquale Gagliardi, medical director of the regional helicopter service that airlifted survivors to local hospitals, agreed that it was "unprecedented."
"I've been flying for over 20 years and I can say I'm a veteran. I've helped hundreds of people in difficult situations, but I had never had a misfortune of this size," he told a local newspaper, as BBC News reported.
Costa said rescue workers were "99.9 percent sure" that everyone was accounted for, but that the search was continuing because there is no record of who entered the gorge.
Pappaterra said the national park's guide does not direct hikers through the upper part of the gorge and that only experienced hikers should attempt it, according to The Associated Press.
Some victims were found without proper gear and clothing, according to local media stories reported by BBC News.
Flooding in Paris Becomes 'More and More Recurrent' https://t.co/3WEWJBQoW2 @Climate_Rescue @EUClimateAction— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1517315108.0
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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