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At least 64 die in Afghanistan avalanches

Associated Press / February 10, 2010

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KABUL, Afghanistan - Avalanches engulfed a mountain pass in Afghanistan, trapping hundreds of people in their buried cars and killing at least 64 people, authorities said yesterday.

Rescuers brought in bulldozers, ambulances, and helicopters in a massive effort to reach victims stuck along the 12,700-feet-high Salang Pass, which links the Afghan capital, Kabul, with the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Search and rescue teams recovered the bodies of 24 people but feared 40 others remain trapped and may have died, Interior Minister Hanif Atmar said at a news conference in Kabul. About 2,500 people were rescued from their snowbound vehicles, including more than 400 injured.

The avalanches struck Monday, burying vehicles along several miles of road under heavy snow. Atmar said the highway tunnel had not been closed off earlier because there had been little warning.

Military helicopters were dropping food packages to people stuck on snow-blocked roads, said Zemerai Bashary, Interior Ministry spokesman. Earlier, Afghan reports said some 300 cars and buses were trapped on the mountain pass.

Afghan and coalition forces evacuated about 430 injured, with 180 taken by coalition helicopters to Bagram air base for medical treatment, said General Abdul Rahim Wardak, the defense minister.

Atmar said authorities were unable to locate the parents of 24 children who had been evacuated and were being treated for injuries at hospitals.

Some of the injured were taken to Charikar Hospital in Parwan Province. One injured eyewitness, Abdul Shakor, said he saw more than 100 vehicles still trapped in the snow.

Some 500 Afghan soldiers were mobilized to join about 400 police and others in rescue efforts.