Lahore: Pakistan’s popular hill station Murree was declared a calamity-hit area on Saturday after at least 21 people, including nine children, froze to death in their vehicles due to unprecedented snowfall and rush of tourists to the picturesque town in Punjab province. All the routes in Murree in Rawalpindi district were blocked after thousands of vehicles entered the city, leaving the tourists helpless on the roads.
Around 1,000 cars were stuck on the hill station while the Punjab chief minister issued instructions for expediting rescue work and providing aid to the stranded tourists, the Dawn newspaper reported.
According to a list issued by Rescue 1122, at least 21 people died, including nine children, it said. Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was shocked and upset at the tragic deaths of tourists on the road to Murree.
“Unprecedented snowfall & rush of ppl proceeding without checking weather conditions caught district admin unprepared. Have ordered inquiry & putting in place strong regulation to ensure prevention of such tragedies,” Khan said in a tweet.
The military has been mobilised to clear roads and rescue people still trapped, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said in a video message. He said Murree had “seen a huge number of tourists after 15-20 years”, and due to that, a crisis took place.
Rashid said the government was forced to close the road from Islamabad to Murree. The commissioners of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, deputy commissioners, police, are carrying out rescue operations, he said.
The Punjab government has declared Murree as a calamity-hit area after heavy snowfall wreaked havoc in the city. Taking notice of the chaos and emergency situation, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has directed to open the government’s offices and rest houses for the stranded tourists.
The Pakistan 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 roads in the area since last night. Officials of the traffic police, however, were making their efforts to restore the flow of traffic on the roads.
Snowfall, which began on Tuesday night, continued with regular intervals, attracting thousands of tourists. However, due to the rush of visitors, many families ended up getting stranded on roads. It has been reported that over 100,000 vehicles entered the hill station. In a statement, Chief Traffic Officer Taimoor Khan said the entry of vehicles into Murree had been banned from Friday night onwards and cars were being diverted from toll plazas and other entrances, the Dawn reported.
He said since snowfall started on Monday morning, more than 155,000 vehicles had entered Murree and 135,000 had so far left.