Pakistan: 23 die after being stuck in cars amid heavy snowfall
By Aamir Latif
KARACHI, Pakistan (AA): Some 23 tourists have lost their lives over the past two days after their vehicles were trapped due to heavy snowfall in a famous hill station near capital Islamabad, as rescue workers backed by army troops struggled overnight to scrap snow off the roads, officials said on Sunday.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told reporters that at least 1,000 vehicles are still stuck as heavy snowfall has blocked several roads in and around Murree, located some 65 kilometers (40 miles) from the capital.
The city administration releases the details of 23 tourists, who died mainly because of cold and lack of oxygen. The deceased include a police officer, his wife and their five children.
Earlier, the interior minister said that 16 to 19 people, including women, lost their lives due to severe cold and unavailability of food and medicines.
Murree has been declared calamity-hit as government has imposed a state of emergency in hospitals, police stations, and administration offices.
Massive snowfall over the past three days buried Murree, a scenic hill station located some 65 Kilometers (40 miles) off Islamabad, and its adjoining valleys under a thick layer of snow, blocking roads, knocking off power, and sending panicked tourists scurrying for shelter.
Army troops, the minister said, have been called in to assist in rescue operation as all roads leading to Murree have been closed for general public.
“Only vehicles carrying food and blankets are being allowed to move,” he added.
Dawood Farooq, a volunteer of Al-Khidmat Foundation, the country’s one of the largest charity and relief organizations, told Anadolu Agency that rescue teams are trying hard to rescue the stranded people to the hotels and locals’ houses before sunset as there is no chance of scraping the snow off the roads.
“Situation is worse than your imagination. Thousands of vehicles are stranded as all roads on the outskirts (of Murree) are blocked by heavy snow,” Farooqi told Anadolu Agency by telephone.
However, he said the government and non-governmental rescue teams have managed to shift a large number of trapped tourists to the nearby hotels and private residences.
Maj. Gen Akhtar Nawaz, head of the National Disaster Management Authority, a state-run agency that coordinates between different relief and rescue agencies, told reporters that rescuers are still working to clear a key road, where most of the deaths occurred.
Remaining roads and arteries, he said, have been cleared for traffic, and all the stranded tourists have been shifted to hotels and army camps.
However, he added, “many” abandoned vehicles are still trapped under the snow, causing trouble for the rescuers who are struggling to clear the main road that connects the picturesque valley with rest of the country.
Some 600 to 700 vehicles were rescued overnight, according to Murree police.
“Many people have already been transferred to safe areas and with the help of the district administration all commercial places including restaurants have been directed to make arrangements to accommodate additional people,” he said, adding: “Even the locals have been asked to accommodate the stranded tourists as much as possible.”
Footage aired on local broadcaster Geo News showed dozens of vehicles buried under snow, and several desperate tourists walking on snow-covered roads in search for safety.
Hundreds of thousands of people from across Pakistan travel to Murree and adjoining tourist destinations to enjoy snowfall in winters.
According to police, over 100,000 vehicles have entered Murree over the past one week.
[Photo: Army and civil rescuers carry bodies of tourists who died after heavy snow storm in Murree, a hill station between Islamabad Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) on January 8, 2022, in Muree. Photographer: Stringer/AA]
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