At least 21 people have died in freezing temperatures when tens of thousands of visitors flocked to a Pakistani hilltop town to see unusually heavy snowfall, causing a heavy traffic jam, authorities said on Saturday.
Police reported that at least eight people froze to death in their cars, though it was not immediately clear whether others may have died of asphyxiation after inhaling exhaust fumes in snow-covered vehicles .
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said the army had mobilized to clear the roads and rescue thousands of people still trapped near Murree, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) northeast of the country. capital, Islamabad.
Videos shared on social media showed cars packed bumper-to-bumper, with three-foot-tall (three-foot) piles of snow on their roofs.
“Heavy snowfall has caused traffic jams and the closure of roads,” Babar Khan, a tourist stranded for hours, told AFP by telephone.
“Roads have also been closed due to fallen trees in many places.”
⛔️ MURREE: Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed confirms that at least 16-19 deaths of tourists stuck in snow / blizzard • Roads: Isbd-Murree closed until Sunday evening • Civilian armed forces have been called in to help #Murree 🎥: stranded tourists, in particular. women + children directed to the neighboring #PakArmy camp pic.twitter.com/RnOpRg2CAr
– Pakistan Development (@developingpak) January 8, 2022 The Pakistan National Weather Forecast Center website said heavy snowfall was expected in the region until Sunday afternoon, while the Minister of Information, Fawad Chaudhry, said “decades” of weather records had been broken in the past 48 hours.
For days, Pakistani social media is replete with photos and videos of people playing in the snow around Murree, a picturesque seaside resort built by the British in the 19th century as a sanatorium for its colonial troops.
The office of the chief minister of Punjab province said the surroundings had been declared a “disaster area” and urged people to stay away.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was shocked and upset by the tragedy.
“Unprecedented snowfall and a rush of ppl proceeding without checking the weather conditions caught the district administrator off guard,” he tweeted.
“Ordered an investigation and put in place strict regulations to ensure the prevention of such tragedies.”
Shocked and overwhelmed by the tragic deaths of tourists on the road to Murree. Unprecedented snowfall and a rush of ppl proceeding without checking the weather conditions caught the district administrator off guard. To have ordered an investigation and put in place strict regulations to ensure the prevention of such tragedies.
– Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) January 8, 2022 Traffic warning Authorities warned last weekend that too many vehicles were trying to enter Murree, but that failed to deter hordes of day trippers from the capital .
“It is not only tourists, but the local population are also facing serious problems,” Usman Abbasi, another stranded visitor, told AFP.
“Gas cylinders are depleted and potable water is not available in most areas – it is frozen or the water pipes have been damaged due to severe cold.”
A sad day for Pakistan tourism. So sad that tourists including innocent children and weak women have disappeared in Murree due to heavy snowfall. Pakistan urgently needs a tourist structure. Why did the state not take the precautionary measures in time? 1/3 pic.twitter.com/SeSUENk2UK
– Needa Salam (@needasalam) January 8, 2022 The Pakistani Armed Forces Public Relations Department said those still stranded in Murree will be moved to five already established army relief camps.
Rescue operations continued with heavy machinery operating “without any pause,” he said, adding: “Where the machines cannot reach, troops have been moved and they are clearing traffic and opening roads. “.
The town of about 30,000 residents, at an elevation of 2,300 meters (7,500 feet), clings to the sides of steep hills and valleys and is served by narrow roads that are frequently clogged even in good weather.
Sheikh Rashid said residents had sheltered people trapped in the city and provided blankets and food for those they could reach on the outskirts.
Authorities said schools and government buildings welcomed those who could get to the city from blocked roads.
Rescue 1122, the Pakistani emergency service, has released a list of 21 people who have been confirmed dead.
It included a policeman, his wife and their six children.
Hasaan Khawar, a spokesperson for the Punjab government, said they were frozen to death in their snow-covered car.
Rescue 1122 said another family, of five, were also among the dead.
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