Turkey avalanche rescue operation put on hold by government

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Media caption,

Rescuers try to reach victims of Turkey avalanches

Rescue efforts have been put on hold after two avalanches killed at least 39 people in eastern Turkey.

Most of the dead were hit by an avalanche on Wednesday while trying to recover the victims of another downslide which happened a day earlier.

Further rescue work continued but was paused because of concerns about a possible third avalanche.

The operation, involving more than 700 personnel, is expected to continue on Thursday after inspections.

Images from Wednesday showed dozens of people using shovels and sticks to dig people out from under the snow.

The recovery is being led by Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (Afad).

But conditions hampered the recovery, with one rescue vehicle having to be pulled out from under 5m (16ft) of snow.

Van province governor Mehmet Emin Bilmez said police officers, firefighters and volunteer rescuers were among the dead. There are fears the death toll may rise further.

A further 75 people have also been injured, according to Health Minister Fahrettin Kocaaso.

The head of Afad's Van office, Osman Ucar, was one of those hospitalised after the second avalanche.

"I was halfway buried," he told Ihlas News Agency. "I got out by my own means."

Officials were alerted to the first avalanche by a man who escaped after his snow-clearing vehicle was buried under snow.

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