VIDEO: 21 tourists freeze to death in cars in Pakistan’s hill station after heavy snowfall - GulfToday

VIDEO: 21 tourists freeze to death in cars in Pakistan’s hill station after heavy snowfall


People stand next to cars stuck under fallen trees on a snowy road in Murree, Pakistan, on Saturday. Reuters

Tariq Butt, Correspondent / AFP

At least 21 people froze to death in cars stranded in snow amid a glut of tourist influx in Murree as it was declared a calamity hit on Saturday.

Police reported that at least eight people had frozen to death in their cars, while it was not immediately clear if others had died from asphyxiation after inhaling exhaust fumes in snow-bound vehicles.

Rescue 1122, Pakistan's emergency service, released a list naming 21 people it said had been confirmed dead. It included a policeman, his wife and their six children. Those who died ranged in age from 21 to 49, according to a statement from the Rawalpindi divisional emergency officer.

The Pakistan Meteorological Department had predicted heavy snowfall in Murree and Galiyat from Jan.6 to 9. Around 1,000 cars were stuck on the hill station. Entry of cars into Gailyat of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) was banned on Friday night.

The Punjab province chief minister's office 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 at the tragedy. "Unprecedented snowfall & rush of ppl proceeding without checking weather conditions caught district admin unprepared," he tweeted. "Have ordered inquiry & putting in place strong regulation to ensure prevention of such tragedies."


Viral videos

Video shared on social media showed cars packed bumper-to-bumper, with one-metre-high (three-foot) piles of snow on their roofs.

"The heavy snowfall caused a traffic jam and the closure of roads," Babar Khan, a tourist who was stranded for hours, told AFP by phone. "Roads were also closed due to falling trees in many places."

The website of Pakistan's National Weather Forecasting Centre said heavy snowfall was expected in the area until Sunday afternoon, while Information Minister Fawad Chaudry said "decades" of weather records had been broken in the last 48 hours.

Traffic warning

Authorities warned last weekend that too many vehicles were trying to enter Murree, but that failed to discourage hordes of daytrippers from the capital.

"It's not only the tourists, but the local population is also facing severe problems," Usman Abbasi, another stranded visitor, told AFP. "Gas cylinders have run out and drinking water is not available in most areas — it's either frozen or the water pipes have been damaged due to severe cold." He said hotels were running out of food, and mobile phone services were patchy. "People are facing a terrible situation."

Army troops take part in a rescue operation in a heavy snowfall-hit area in Murree on Saturday. AP

The town of around 30,000, at an altitude of 2,300 metres (7,500 feet), clings to the sides of steep hills and valleys and is serviced by narrow roads that are frequently clogged even in good weather.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, in a video message, said five platoons of the Pakistan Army, as well as Rangers and Frontier Corps, were called on an emergency basis while Rawalpindi and Islamabad administrations, along with police, are working to rescue those stranded.

He said tourists had flocked to the hill station in such large numbers "for the first time in 15 to 20 years, which created a big crisis."

Sheikh Rashid said residents had sheltered people trapped in the town and provided blankets and food to those they could reach on the outskirts.

Pakistan-Winter-tragedy-main6-750 Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed speaks during his visit to Murree. Reuters

Authorities said schools and government buildings had taken in those who could make it to the town from the clogged roads. Helicopters were also on standby for when the weather cleared.

Emergency declared

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar declared Murree calamity hit and imposed a state of emergency in hospitals, police stations, administration offices and Rescue 1122 services.

He also directed the provincial chief secretary, inspector general of police, relief commissioner, director general Rescue 1122 and director general of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) to undertake rescue work, in addition to providing his helicopter to help with aid efforts.
Army members take part in a rescue operation in a heavy snowfall-hit area in Murree. AP

In a statement issued, the chief minister said that rescuing stranded tourists was the "foremost priority", adding that all rest houses and state buildings had been opened to them.

The process to rescue the tourists has been expedited while food and essential items are also being provided, Buzdar said. He also expressed sadness over the deaths of people stuck in the snow, saying he was with the families in their grief.

The chief minister shared the same in a tweet later in the day, saying he had issued orders to accelerate work to rescue citizens stuck in the snow and send more machinery from Rawalpindi.

Pakistan-Winter-tragedy-main1-750 Soldiers take part in a rescue operation in a heavy snowfall-hit area in Murree. AP

More than 23,000 cars were evacuated from the area the night before and the rescue operation was going on, he shared. Buzdar appealed to people to strictly follow instructions given by the police and district administration and cooperate with them.

In a statement, KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan said he was keeping a close eye on the situation in Galiyat which has also been overcrowded with tourists in the current winter season.

The entry of cars into Galiyat has been banned completely, he said, adding that no untoward accident had occurred in the area where three feet of snow fell a day earlier.

The chief minister added that tourists who had been stranded in cars were rescued and shifted to rest houses and hotels. "Galiyat Development Authority, Rescue 1122 and local administration have been put on high alert to deal with any untoward situation," he said.


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