Two avalanches within 18 hours in eastern Turkey have killed at least 31 people, a majority of them from a rescue team, officials and a disaster agency confirmed on Wednesday.

Five people were killed in the first avalanche on Tuesday in the province of Van, which borders Iran; the avalanche buried a minibus and construction vehicle.

The Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) said eight people were rescued from that incident.

According to AFAD, 153 search and rescue members, 17 vehicles and 28 ambulances were dispatched to the area, which witnesses heavy snowfall every year.

The rescue crew was working in Bahcesaray when a second avalanche hit at 12:02 pm (0902 GMT) on Wednesday.

The team was buried under the snow, with 26 fatalities reported, according to AFAD. Another 53 people were injured.

Van's governor and the Interior Ministry said the rescue team included gendarmes, security guards and fire fighters.

Van Governor Mehmet Emin Bilmez said it wasn't possible to estimate how many people remained trapped under the snow, but cited initial reports as saying that at least five civil servants were missing.

Broadcast footage showed three overturned vehicles at the bottom of a steep slope as scores of additional rescuers using sticks and shovels were extricating survivors while heavy snow continued to fall and blanket the area.

Those rescued were helped up the slope with ropes. Some, who were injured, were carried uphill on stretchers. The footage also showed dozens of people desperately trying to clear the snow with their bare hands shortly after the second avalanche.

State broadcaster TRT said a blizzard was forecast for the area, making further rescue efforts challenging and treacherous into the evening.

Bilmez said those killed in the second avalanche included eight gendarmes, three security guards, three fireman and nine civilians.

The rescue teams were searching for two people stranded in the minibus that was buried in the first avalanche.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu had arrived in Van city and was on his way to the site.

The Defence Ministry said it was dispatching a 75-member rescue team to the area to support the search operations.

‘There were nearly 200 people working for the first rescue effort. We told civilians to stay away from the slope, cleared the area,’ said AFAD's Van chief, Osman Ucar, who was among the injured in the second avalanche.

‘It was only the gendarmerie and us working to recover the minibus. Then the second avalanche dragged a construction vehicle onto us, burying us under,’ he told broadcaster NTV from his hospital bed.