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Dozens of rescue workers killed in Turkish avalanche

At least 23 rescue workers have been killed on a mountain road in eastern Turkey after they were hit by an avalanche while searching for two people missing in an earlier snowslide.

Authorities said 300 emergency service workers were called to the road near the mountain-surrounded town of Bahçesaray in Van province, which borders Iran, after the first avalanche struck late on Tuesday, killing five people. Around midday on Wednesday, the team was struck by the second avalanche.

The governor of Van, Mehmet Emin Bilmez, said 23 rescuers’ bodies were recovered from the mass of snow on the steep slope. They included eight military police officers, three government-paid village guards, three firefighters and nine volunteers.

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

Thirty emergency workers were either rescued or escaped from under the snow and were taken to hospital 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 snowstorm. 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 pickaxes. 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 news 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 a vehicle picked him up.