KABUL (AFP) - Avalanches triggered by heavy snow killed at least 24 people on a treacherous mountain pass in northern Afghanistan, injured dozens and left up to another 40 people missing, officials said. A blizzard struck the busy road connecting the capital Kabul to the north of the country Monday, precipitating an avalanche that buried people in vehicles on a strategic pass. The bodies of 24 of our compatriots have been found so far, Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar told reporters. There could be up to 40 more still stranded and unfortunately they might have died already. That is the best estimate that we have at this moment, the minister added, speaking in English. Such deadly avalanches are rare in Afghanistan during winter, but are more frequent in the spring when heavy snows melt. Northern Afghanistan has traditionally been removed from the worst of the eight-year Taliban insurgency ransacking the south and east of the country. Afghan officials have released varying tolls for the disaster, with the public works ministry listing 15 dead and the defence ministry saying 30 were killed when an avalanche of snow trapped people in their vehicles. These figures do change as we get more and more information as a result of the rescue operation. What is confirmed is 24 dead, Atmar said. He fended off questions about why the road was open in the first place, insisting the situation had appeared manageable until the storm struck out of nowhere as traffic continued through the pass as normal. All of a sudden, a storm hit the area which resulted in a number of avalanches hitting the main highway and closing the road for up to 3.5 kilometres (two miles), Atmar said. So far the rescue operation has been aimed at (a) getting the stranded people out of that area, and (b) recovering the dead bodies and to taking the injured to hospitals, he said.