A total of 41 people were killed and 75 others were wounded in two avalanches in the Bahçesaray district of the eastern province of Van. Thirty-six of those killed were part of a search and rescue team hit by the second avalanche as they tried to find a group of people missing after the first.
The first avalanche occurred due to bad weather conditions and struck a minibus on the Van-Bahçesaray highway late on Feb. 4.
Rescue teams were dispatched to the scene after the avalanche and retrieved the dead bodies of five people.
The team members had been searching for survivors when the second avalanche took place early on Feb. 5, trapping them under snow.
Van Governor Mehmet Emin Bilmez has said that those killed included civilians, gendarmes, village guards, and firefighters, who had joined the rescue efforts.
Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) and National Medical Rescue Team (UMKE) members were engulfed in the avalanche.
Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Feb. 5 that officials had called off the rescue work until the next morning because of intense snowfall and the risk of another avalanche.
One of the survivors pulled from the snow was Osman Uçar, AFAD’s Van provincial manager.
Ringed by gigantic mountains, Bahçesaray frequently faces harsh winter conditions.
Christian Berger, EU’s Ambassador to Ankara, has released a message of condolence following the avalanche.