'People died enjoying heaters in their cars'
Murree Hotel Association Chairman Raja Irfan has rejected the allegation that tourists died in Murree because hotel owners were charging exorbitant rent for rooms. He has also claimed that people turned on their cars’ heaters and were enjoying with windows closed which resulted in their deaths.
"People were not ready to abandon their cars that’s why fewer people died due to cold and more due to suffocation," he said speaking on SAMAA TV’s show Naya Din.
At least 22 people died of cold and asphyxiation in Murree after they were stranded in their cars during a snowstorm Friday night. Many tourists who returned from the hill station said hotel owners jacked up accommodation charges, forcing people to spend the night in their cars.
However, Irfan said that and all such claims were baseless.
“Owners who had high-end suites charged from Rs25,000 to Rs30,000, although these charges are still high,” he accepted.
“We had asked all registered hotels to provide free food and accommodation and we tried to facilitate as many people as possible.”
He rebuffed the claims that locals were demanding money from people, adding that locals came to help even before the army was called in.
According to Irfan, 35% to 40% hotel owners are from other cities like Lahore, Faisalabad and Karachi.
When asked that people were charged Rs200 for a single egg, he said it is possible that some dhabas over charged people.
“There are pathan kids who sell eggs in buckets. We can't check what they are doing.”
He rejected the claims that people died near hotels and owners didn’t come to their help.
“All the deaths happened in deserted areas. These areas are cold even during summers. There are no hotels around.”
Talking to SAMAA TV Sunday, tourists said that accommodation charges were raised to Rs70,000 ($398) per room from Rs6,000 ($34).
Some tourists said that food prices also sky-rocketed in the area, specifically amid the severe weather conditions.
One pack of biscuits worth Rs10 was sold at Rs300, while a small water bottle was sold at as high as Rs300, they said.
Almost all tourists have left the hill station by Sunday evening after major roads reopened.
According to the NDMA Chairperson Lt-General Akhtar Nawaz, 600 to 700 vehicles were evacuated. Over 5,000 cars on Sunday left Murree by noon, he said speaking to SAMAA TV.