BONDO (Switzerland) • Eight people have gone missing after a massive landslide in the Swiss Alps and hopes of finding them alive are fading, the authorities have said.
The landslide, which struck early on Wednesday, sent a huge flow of rocks and mud flooding down the Piz Cengalo mountain into the outskirts of Bondo, a village near the Italian border.
The eight missing - from Germany, Austria and Switzerland - were hiking in the Val Bondasca region at the time.
"The chances of survival are not high," local police spokesman Roman Ruegg told reporters yesterday.
A massive search and rescue operation is under way, involving some 120 emergency workers equipped with infrared cameras and mobile phone detectors, helicopters and rescue dogs.
According to Ms Anna Giacometti, the mayor of Bregaglia - a municipality that encompasses Bondo - paths in the area had been flagged as "dangerous" earlier this month because of falling rocks.
Speaking to the Blick daily, she said warning signs in several languages had been posted in the village.
Dramatic footage showed an entire mountainside disintegrating, unleashing an unstoppable mass of thick mud and sludge that tore up trees and demolished at least one building in its path.
The landslide set four million cubic metres of mud and debris in motion, its relentless mass stretching 500m across... The event was so severe that the vibrations set off seismometers across Switzerland, measuring the equivalent of a 3.0- magnitude earthquake.
Mr Christian Speck, manager of a hotel in Soglio, several kilometres from Bondo, witnessed the mountainside collapsing.
"At breakfast time, my customers and I saw rocks come lose from the mountainside and slide towards Bondo in a huge cloud of smoke," he said.
The landslide set four million cubic metres of mud and debris in motion, its relentless mass stretching 500m across, according to the regional natural hazards office.
The event was so severe that the vibrations set off seismometers across Switzerland, measuring the equivalent of a 3.0-magnitude earthquake.
Police and residents said mobile phone coverage in the area was spotty, voicing hope that it could explain why those still missing had not been in touch.
But the authorities acknowledged that the chances of a happy ending were dwindling fast.
President Doris Leuthard, who examined the site from the air on Thursday, said the probability that the hikers were dead "is increasing by the hour", Blick reported.
Some Bondo residents were permitted to return home as early as yesterday, but Ms Giacometti told reporters that others should expect to wait days and even weeks before it was deemed safe to go back home.