21 freeze to death as snow turns Murree into parking lot
– Murree declared calamity struck, urgency imposed on rescue services, police and administrative services
– Minister declares that “the greatest number of tourists in 15-20 years” despite the warnings has created a crisis
– Imran “shocked” requests report and orders “regulation” to avoid a repeat of the tragedy
ISLAMABAD: At least 21 people have died in Murree after heavy snowfall turned the popular tourist resort into a slippery mess, blocking thousands of vehicles, leading to increased traffic congestion, the Minister of Justice said on Saturday. Interior, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed.
Quoting from police officers, AFP reported that at least six people froze to death in their car, while it was not immediately clear whether others died of asphyxiation after inhaling fumes from the snowdrift.
Ateeq Ahmed, an Islamabad police officer, said eight of the deaths were from the family of another police officer in the capital, Naveed Iqbal, who also died.
Ahmed, the minister, said thousands of vehicles had been pulled out of the snow but more than a thousand were still stranded in the area.
He said more than 1.2 meters of snow fell in the area overnight and all inbound traffic was blocked on Saturday.
All roads in and to the mountainous city have been closed, National Highway and Highway Police (NHMP) Inspector General Inam Ghani tweeted.
Please don’t travel to Murree!
The snowfall has started again. NHMP and NHA agents are working to clear the Murree Freeway. Congestion in Murree and on the highway. People in hotels for the night went out on the roads. New vehicles are not allowed into Murree.
– Inam Ghani QPM & Bar, PSP (@InamGhani) January 8, 2022
The minister also announced that the roads leading to the city would remain closed until Sunday 9 p.m.
DISASTER DECLARED BY MURREE
Meanwhile, Punjab’s Chief Minister Usman Buzdar declared the city calamity stricken and imposed a state of emergency on 1122 hospitals, police stations, administrative offices and rescue services.
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– Farid Malik (@FaridMalikPK) January 8, 2022
He also asked the Chief Secretary of Punjab Kamran Afzal, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Rao Sardar Ali Khan, the Commissioner of Relief, the Director General of Rescue 1122 and the head of the Provincial Management Authority. Disaster (PDMA) to undertake rescue work, in addition to providing his helicopter to assist with relief efforts.
Buzdar said rescuing stranded tourists was the “top priority,” according to a statement issued by the chief minister’s office, adding that all nursing homes and state buildings had been opened to them.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was shocked by the “tragic deaths” of tourists. “Have ordered [an] investigate and put in place strict regulations to ensure the prevention of such tragedies, âKhan said in a tweet.
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
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry called on people not to visit the hill station until the situation improves.
Meanwhile, the federal government also announced the deployment of Pakistani Army, Ranger and Frontier Corps personnel to help.
Separately, in a statement, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said military engineers have also reached the area to help open major highways.
The city attracts over half a million tourists each year. It broke all records in 2020 welcoming more than 1.2 million tourists following the lifting of restrictions imposed following the first wave of coronavirus.
But, in his video message, Ahmed said that “for the first time in 15 to 20 years, so many tourists have flocked to Murree, which has created a great crisis.”
Authorities warned last weekend that too many vehicles were trying to enter Murree, but that failed to deter hordes of day-trippers from Islamabad.
According to Rawalpindi Deputy Commissioner Muhammad Ali, more than 135,000 vehicles have entered the city in the past five days.
“It is not only the tourists, but the local people are also facing serious problems,” said Usman Abbasi, a tourist trapped in the city. AFP.
âGas 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. “
He said hotels in the city were running low on food and mobile phone services were spotty.
A special control room has also been set up in the deputy commissioner’s office and people can contact the administration on 051-9269016, 051-9292963 and 0300-5540819 in case of an emergency or to get information, said a spokesperson for the district administration.
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– Commissioner’s Division Rawalpindi (@CommissionerRwp) January 8, 2022
NHMP and National Highway Authority (NHA) officials are working to clear the Murree Freeway for travelers, Ghani said.
In his video statement, the Home Secretary said residents of Murree were providing food and blankets to stranded tourists, adding that the administration now only allowed vehicles planning to take food and blankets. .
The town of about 30,000 people clings to the sides of steep hills and valleys and is served by narrow roads that are frequently blocked even in good weather.
Umar Maqbool, a local administrator, said heavy snowfall hampered rescue efforts overnight and even the heavy equipment brought in to clear the snow initially got stuck.
Authorities gave no further details of those who died in their stranded vehicles, but said they were working on both recovery and rescue operations. He said food and blankets had been distributed to stranded tourists.
The most horrific incident in Murree’s history took place in 2017 when 11 people were killed and two others injured when their cable car broke and plunged into a ravine tens of meters deep.
Villagers killed and injured in the crash were using the cable car – which can usually carry up to 15 – to get to the station.
– With an additional contribution of Reuters, AFP, APP