Turkey’s Van Province suffered a series of devastating natural disasters this week, with two avalanches occurring within 24 hours of each other. The avalanches were triggered in the same area near a highway outside of the town of Bahcesaray. The first avalanche struck on Tuesday and the second followed on Wednesday. The Turkish Natural Disaster and Crisis Directorate announced on Thursday that the death toll had climbed to 41 with nearly 100 others injured.
Following the first avalanche, hundreds of rescue workers responded to the scene. As a result, many of the victims of the avalanches were rescuers attempting to aid those first buried by the snow. As of Thursday, emergency workers were continuing to search for their colleagues. However, snow, fog, and windy conditions delayed their efforts. According to Turkey’s interior ministry, at least 30 rescuers had been pulled from or escaped from under the snow and have since been hospitalized for their injuries.
The mountain on which the avalanches occurred is Hasanbesir Tepesi, which has an elevation of 3,497 meters (11,473 feet). The road that was buried is one of the highest in the country and in all of Europe. Known as a dangerous route to travel, it is often closed due to inclement weather.
The Van Province lies on the eastern edge of Turkey, sharing a border with Iran. The region is mountainous and home to nearly 23 square kilometers of glaciers. Hasanbesir Tepesi, the mountain where the avalanches took place, also hosts a number of glaciers.
According to the latest IPCC report, glaciers around the world have declined as a result of climate change, which has increased dangers from natural hazards. Retreating glaciers and thawing permafrost leave mountain slopes unstable and weaken infrastructure. Due to this instability, increases in the number of avalanches involving wet snow during winter months are projected. Mountainous regions are home to 10 percent of the world’s population. As Earth’s climate continues to warm it is likely that disastrous avalanches, like those seen in Turkey, will continue to impact mountain communities.