BBC NEWS / ASIA-PASIFIC / http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7157118.stm

An avalanche on a road linking the Tajik capital Dushanbe with the country's second city Khudzhand has killed at least 15 people, police say.

It occurred late on Friday evening 67km (42 miles) to the north of Dushanbe, a mountainous republic in ex-Soviet Central Asia. Dozens of cars are still buried under snow as another avalanche crashed on to lorries on the road, rescuers said. Avalanches are very common along the route, which links Tajikistan to China.

Police say that one of the drivers managed to make a phone call from his mobile but after that all communication was lost. There have been heavy snow storms all across this part of Central Asia and one driver who recently came back from the border with China said the road had become exceptionally dangerous, the BBC's Central Asia correspondent Natalia Antelava reports.

But much of the economy of this impoverished region relies on trade with China, and so many drivers say they have no choice but to take the risk, our correspondent adds.

Communications problems

Tajikistan's emergencies ministry told Reuters news agency it was having difficulty confirming the death toll reported by police. "Rescuers have so far reported two people killed but because of bad weather they are only able to phone in occasionally," spokeswoman Munira Nazariyeva said.

"There are still people under snow, we cannot say how many at the moment. The rescue operation continues," she added. Confirming the death toll of 15 for the Associated Press news agency, interior ministry spokesman Khudonazar Asoyev said it was unclear how many vehicles were trapped under the snow.

The Dushanbe-Khudzhand road used to close for the winter, but it stayed open this year thanks to the newly built Anzob tunnel, which goes under a snow-covered pass.