Pakistan’s popular hill station Murree was declared a disaster area on Saturday after at least 21 people, including nine children, froze to death in their vehicles stranded due to unprecedented snowfall and the influx of tourists in the picturesque town of Punjab province.
All roads from Murree to Rawalpindi district were blocked after thousands of vehicles entered the city, leaving tourists defenseless on the roads.
About 1,000 cars were stranded at the hill station as Punjab’s chief minister Usman Buzdar gave instructions to speed up rescue work and provide aid to stranded tourists, the Dawn newspaper reported.
The government of Punjab has imposed a state of emergency on hospitals, police stations and administrative offices.
According to a list released by Rescue 1122, at least 22 people have died, including 10 children, he said.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was shocked and upset by the tragic deaths of tourists on the road to Murree.
“Unprecedented snowfall and a stampede of people proceeding without checking the weather conditions caught the district administrator off guard. I ordered an investigation and put in place strict regulations to ensure the prevention of such tragedies,” Khan said in a tweet.
The army was mobilized to clear the roads and rescue those still trapped, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said in a video message. He said Murree had “seen a large number of tourists after 15 to 20 years”, and because of this, a crisis occurred.
Rashid said the government was forced to close the road from Islamabad to Murree.
The commissioners of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, the deputy commissioners of the police, are carrying out rescue operations, he said.
“Up to 1,000 vehicles have been stranded overnight […] some were evacuated; 16-19 deaths have occurred in cars. Residents provided food and blankets to those stranded, ”Rashid said.
He said authorities would evacuate 1,000 vehicles by Saturday evening, while roads would remain closed in Murree until 9 p.m. Sunday.
“We have also decided to ban tourists who plan to visit Murree. Now is not the time to come to Murree,” said the minister as quoted by Geo News.
The government of Punjab has declared Murree a disaster area after heavy snowfall wreaks havoc in the city. Noting the chaos and the emergency, Punjab’s chief minister Buzdar ordered the opening of government offices and rest homes for stranded tourists.
Pakistan’s meteorological department had predicted heavy snowfall in Murree and Galiyat from January 6 to 9.
Thousands of tourists, including women and children, have been trapped on the region’s roads since last night. Traffic police officers, however, were trying to restore the flow of traffic on the roads.
Speaking to Twitter, the Rawalpindi Deputy Commissioner said: “About 23,000 vehicles have been safely evacuated from Murree. About 1,000 are still stranded.” Opposition political leaders criticized the government for its handling of the influx of tourists and its lack of preparation.
Opposition leader in the National Assembly and PML-N chairman Shehbaz Sharif said he was heartbroken by the Murree tragedy and asked who was responsible for the deaths.
“Where has the government been all this time? What arrangements has it made to deal with such an influx? Incompetence quickly turns into criminality. Advance arrangements and 24-hour supervision were normal SOPs in the past, “he tweeted.
Calling the heartbreaking deaths, PPP vice-president Sherry Rehman said governments “must be more vigilant in the face of the flood of tourists on Galiyat roads.”
“Instead of looking for more tourists, the government should have given a warning for the blocked roads. These were tragic and preventable losses that no one had foreseen, but no one acted in time either. must be drawn, ”she added.
“The job of governments is not only to count tourists but also to make advance arrangements and security measures for them. […] These deaths are not due to snowfall but to government negligence, ”tweeted PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz.
Large numbers of people were stranded and flights were delayed as rain continued to hit the federal capital and Rawalpindi for the fourth day in a row on Friday.
Due to continuous snowfall and traffic jams in Murree, the district administration has banned the entry of more vehicles.
Snowfall, which started Tuesday evening, continued at regular intervals, drawing thousands of tourists. However, due to the influx of visitors, many families found themselves stranded on the roads. It was reported that over 100,000 vehicles entered the hill station.
In a statement, traffic official Taimoor Khan said vehicle entry into Murree was banned from Friday evening and cars were being diverted from toll plazas and other entrances, Dawn reported.
He said since the snowfall began on Monday morning, more than 155,000 vehicles had entered Murree and 135,000 had so far left.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)