Afghan avalanches kill at least 28, strand 100s

KABUL (AP) - Avalanches roared down a mountain pass north of Afghanistan's capital, killing at least 28 people and leaving hundreds more stranded in their vehicles on snow-blocked roads, officials said Tuesday.

Another 70 people were injured and transported to hospitals as the military and police continued rescue efforts to dig out those trapped in the snow, an Afghan Defense Ministry statement said. Some 1,500 people were rescued, it said.

The avalanches struck Monday following heavy snow in the Salang Pass that links the Afghan capital Kabul with the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Suhrab Ali Safari, acting public works minister, told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Salang a strong snowstorm overnight triggered a major avalanche that covered about 2 miles (3.5 kilometers) of road.

"Unfortunately, it has blocked the road completely. We're working to clear it from both sides, north and south," he said.

Safari said there was a series of smaller avalanches in the area in recent weeks, but Monday night brought a big snowstorm in which drivers had no visibility beyond 2 yards (2 meters).

Soldiers, police and local people were all trying to help in the rescue efforts, he said.

"Everybody is trying to rescue the people who are stuck in the avalanche. But while we're clearing one part of the road, the storm covered another part of the road again. It's very difficult," he said.

Despite major efforts to clear the road Tuesday, he estimated another mile (1.5 kilometers) of road remained cut off.

Some 500 Afghan soldiers were mobilized to join police and others in the rescue efforts. The international coalition contributed four Chinook helicopters while the army sent two choppers, several ambulances and several bulldozers, the Afghan National Army announced.

"There's still danger from avalanches there so that's why our work is a little slow," said Gen. Abdul Rahman Sayedkhail, Parwan provincial police chief.

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

In a statement, President Hamid Karzai ordered the ministries of public works, defense and disaster control to"use all possible means to get the roads unblocked and rescue those trapped and stranded in the heavy snow."

He also expressed condolences to the families of the victims who were killed or injured.

(This version CORRECTS 1,500 rescued, sted stranded)

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