Aerial view of the slab of rock that was poised to break away from the Eiger mountain near Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland
Pascal Lauener  /  Reuters
Aerial view shows the slab of rock that was poised to break away from the Eiger mountain near Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland July 13.
updated 7/14/2006 8:48:09 AM ET 2006-07-14T12:48:09

A massive chunk of Alpine mountain fell from one of Switzerland's most famous peaks on Thursday — an event largely expected after days of warnings from scientists regarding rock loosened by melting glacial ice.

In a thundering collapse that lasted more than 15 minutes, more than 20 million cubic feet of stone from the Eiger mountain fell in the evening, Grindelwald's rescue chief Kurt Amacher told Swiss television station SF DRS.

The rock broke off in sections from the east face of the mountain, thundering down hundreds of feet onto the lower Grindelwald glacier and into the valley below.

It sent up a cloud of dust that spread out over the valley, covering Grindelwald, a well-known resort near the Eiger, for hours.  The village, however, was never in danger.  No one was injured and no buildings were hit, Amacher said.

An estimation of what damage the rock fall caused was not expected until after the area could be examined Friday.

The amount of fallen rock is equal to about half the volume of New York's Empire State Building and comprises a third of an estimated 70 million cubic feet that Swiss geologists last week warned could fall due to the retreat of Grindelwald's glacier.

The rock was loosened and had been crumbling in recent days because the glacial ice that had been holding it together had melted, geologists said.

Earlier Thursday, a 100-foot high rock formation on the Eiger known as the "Madonna" fell as a result of the pressure.

Eiger — famous to climbers for its killer north face — reaches 3,970 meters (13,025 feet).

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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