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Avalanche in Turkey Wipes Out Rescue Team; 28 Dead Overall


Emergency service members dig in the snow around at least three overturned vehicles, near the town of Bahcesehir, in Van province, eastern Turkey, Feb. 5, 2020.

An avalanche slammed into a mountain road in eastern Turkey on Wednesday, wiping out a huge team of rescue workers sent to find two people missing in an earlier avalanche. Officials said 23 rescue workers were killed while others were still buried under the snow.

Wednesday's avalanche increased the overall death toll from the disaster to 28.

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. That snowslide killed five people. Around noon Wednesday, the team was struck by the second avalanche.

Gov. Mehmet Emin Bilmez said 23 rescuers' bodies were recovered from the mass of snow on the steep slope. They included eigh t military police officers, three government-paid village guards, three firefighters and nine volunteers.

Emergency teams were searching for other colleagues who may still be buried under the snow, Bilmez said. He did not provide a figure.

Some 30 emergency workers were either rescued or escaped from under the snow and were hospitalized 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 out of 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.

The first avalanche buried a snow-clearing vehicle and a minibus. The vehicle's operator and seven passengers escaped alive.

The state-run Anadolu Agency said the operator, Bahattin Karagulle, was trapped beneath the snow for 25 minutes before he managed to break a window and escape. He told the agency he walked toward a village to get help before being picked up by a vehicle.