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Two avalanches in eastern Turkey have killed 38 people, most of them buried by the second downslide while working to rescue victims of the first, officials said on Wednesday.

The first avalanche buried a snow-clearing vehicle and a minibus, killing five people and leaving two others missing [Anadolu Agency]

Some 300 emergency service workers were called to a highway near the mountain-surrounded town of Bahcesaray in Van province, which borders Iran, after an avalanche struck late Tuesday, killing five people. Around noon on Wednesday, the team was struck by the second avalanche.

Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Authority (AFAD) said 33 people died when the second avalanche hit while they were searching for two more victims of the first snowslip, which killed five people, after rescuing eight others.

Emergency teams were still searching for other colleagues under the snow, Bilmez said. He did not provide a figure of how many more could be missing.

Some 30 emergency workers were either rescued or escaped from underneath the snow and were hospitalised on Wednesday, the interior ministry said. There was no further information on their conditions.

Video from the scene showed at least three overturned vehicles at the bottom of a hill during a snow storm. Some rescuers were climbing a steep incline to get away from the mass of snow while others dug frantically into the snow with shovels and pick-axes. Fog, heavy snow and strong winds were hampering the rescue efforts.

A special military plane with 75 gendarmerie officers and other rescue officials were on their way from Ankara, AFAD and the defence ministry said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu to obtain information on the efforts, the presidency said.

The president’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, also said on Twitter that “every tool available was mobilised” to help officials.

Christian Berger, the EU ambassador to Turkey, offered his “deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences” as did the US embassy to Turkey on Twitter.

Last month, the eastern province of Elazig was hit by a powerful 6.7-magnitude earthquake, killing 41 people and injuring over 1,600 others.

A 2009 avalanche in the northeastern province of Gumushane killed 11 climbers in the Zigana mountains.

Al Jazeera

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