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Second avalanche in eastern Turkey kills dozens of rescuers

Turkish soldiers and locals try to rescue people trapped under avalanche in Bahcesaray in Van province, Turkey, February 5, 2020, in this still image taken from video. Ihlas News Agency (IHA) via REUTERS

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.

Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Authority (AFAD) said 33 people were killed 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.

Speaking to reporters in Van, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 75 people were injured, adding that around 700 additional emergency rescue personnel were dispatched to the area.

Turkish soldiers and locals try to rescue people trapped under avalanche in Bahcesaray in Van province, Turkey, February 5, 2020. Ihlas News Agency (IHA) via REUTERS

TV footage from Bahcesaray district in the eastern province of Van showed dozens of people using shovels and sticks in snowfall and high winds to dig out vehicles that had been buried and toppled in the avalanche, which occurred on Tuesday evening.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said conditions in the area made it difficult for rescue vehicles to operate, adding that a vehicle had been pulled out from under 4-5 meters (16 feet) of snow.

He later said that rescue operations had been put on hold as authorities feared a third avalanche in the area. He said rescue efforts would resume after inspections on Thursday morning.

Osman Ucar, head of AFAD's Van office, was hospitalized after being caught in the avalanche. He told Ihlas News Agency from hospital that some 200 people were working in the rescue operation but many were out of the immediate area when the second avalanche hit on Wednesday.

"I was halfway buried in snow," he said. "I got out by my own means."

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ezgi Erkoyun in Istanbul, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Philippa Fletcher and Sandra Maler)

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