Turkey: Second deadly avalanche kills rescuers reaching victims

Rescuers responding to an avalanche in eastern Turkey were hit by another avalanche, killing at least 23 people. Thirty people have been rescued while at least 15 others remain trapped under the snow.

At least 23 people were killed on Wednesday in eastern Turkey when they were struck by a second avalanche as emergency crews worked to rescue victims buried in the snow from a separate avalanche the night before, Turkey’s Interior Minister has said.

Another 15 people were believed to be trapped in the snow, said Meki Arvas, mayor of a Bahcesaray in the eastern province of Van. Emergency teams were searching for their colleagues, of whom are members of Turkey’s state disaster response agency and its medical rescue team.

Heavy snow, fog and strong winds were hindering the rescue operation.

Arvas was quoted by broadcaster NTV as saying a rescue team of 300 people had been working to rescue those trapped from the avalanche that swept through the area on Tuesday night, killing five people.

Around noon Wednesday, the rescue team was hit by the second avalanche, bringing the death toll to 28 overall.

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Rescuers remain trapped

In a statement, the Interior Ministry said 30 people had been rescued from the steep slope and were hospitalized Wednesday. No further information on their health status were provided.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters that 11 rescuers’ bodies were retrieved from the snow. The victims included eight military police officers and three village guards, who are supported by the government. Governor Mehmet Emin Bilmez said a firefighter was also killed.

A video from the scene showed at least three overturned vehicles at the base of a hill during a snowstorm, the Associated Press reported. Some rescue workers were scrambling up a steep incline to escape the mass of snow while other rescuers attempted to combat the snow with shovels and pick-axes.

The first avalanche buried a snow-clearing vehicle as well as a minibus but the operator and all passengers managed to escape alive.

According to Turkey’s Anadolu Agency, the operator of the snow-clearing vehicle, Bahattin Karagulle, was trapped under the snow mass for 25 minutes before he managed to break a window and ask for a help at a nearby village.