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Murree snow: 22 tourists stranded in cars freeze to death

Rescue operation suspended as night falls

SAMAA | - Posted: Jan 8, 2022 | Last Updated: 2 weeks ago
SAMAA |
Posted: Jan 8, 2022 | Last Updated: 2 weeks ago

At least 22 people died of cold after they were stranded in their cars during a snowstorm in Murree Friday night, Federal Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed and rescue officials said on Saturday.

The dead include mothers, children and groups of friends who perished waiting to be rescued.

SAMAA TV has described Murree as the graveyard of tourists. The TV is covering the disaster live from different parts of Murree.

Several cars were still reported trapped in snow as rescue operation continued until the night fell. It has been suspended due to darkness and unavailability of power.

The meteorological department has forecast another snowstorm for Saturday night.

The hill station was crowded this week after tourists headed there to witness an unusual snowfall. Last night, the government imposed a ban on the entry of tourists in Murree and Galiyat region. They were not allowed to go beyond Satra Meel Toll Plaza, except in the case of extreme emergency.

Tourists tried to reach Murree by two roads leading from Rawalpindi — the old Rawalpindi-Murree Road and the Murree Expressway — and one from Abbottabad.

Reports of delays on all roads leading to Murree surfaced Friday evening. The deaths were reported Saturday morning and first confirmed by Sheikh Rasheed.

Rasheed said 23,000 cars were brought back on Saturday, while an operation was underway to rescue another 1,000 cars trapped in the snow. Heavy machinery has been called in to clear the roads as well, he said.

According to reports, this week, nearly 140,000 vehicles entered Murree.

But hundreds of them spent Friday night on the roads. Local residents were out on the roads distributing warm clothes, blankets, and food to stranded tourists.

However, help could not reach everyone and people began to die as blizzards buried their cars under several feet of snow.

TV footage aired showed a large number of cars covered with thick snow. Rescue workers were seen partly removing from windscreens of the cars to see if there were people inside.

At once place trees fell over cars.

The snowstorm was so severe that the government on Saturday sought “undeclared” help from the military and civil-armed forces to evacuate the tourists from the area as well.

People walk several miles

Jhika Gali and Kuldana Road are two of the worst hit areas. Most of the deaths occurred on the Kuldana Road.

People who survived the Friday night blizzard left their cars and began to walk towards Murree city on Saturday. It was a several mile long journey.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed claimed that the guest houses in the areas have been opened and people have been allowed to stay there free of cost. "If you're stuck, call 1199 as soon as possible," he said.

However, SAMAA TV reported that hotel owners in Murree have increased rents and shops are demanding extra prices for food.

Thousands of people are still in Murree waiting to return. With cars still trapped in snow, tourists have few options left.

Rescuers were trying to reopen roads. According to SAPM Shahbaz Gill five main roads have been cleared. "People who were stuck in cars have been rescued and moved to shelters. We have refilled fuel tanks of cars stuck in traffic jams. Right now, the weather for the operation of helicopters is unfavorable."

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) on Saturday evening announced that the military was setting up five shelters, including one each at Military College Murree, Jhika Gali and APS Kuldana, where people would be provided residence with heating facilities and food.

The military has also cleared the Murree Islamabad Expressway for traffic, according to ISPR.

Before the nightfall, the road to Jhika Gali was reopened. However, many other roads, including the Kuldana Road, were still covered under snow.

Punjab government spokesperson Hassaan Khawar Saturday night claimed that all of the people trapped in vehicles had been moved to shelters and most of the road had been cleared.

Murree declared calamity hit

The Punjab government has declared the hill station calamity hit. All rescue services have been instructed to increase the pace of operations and deploy all their forces in the region.

Punjab Relief Commissioner had issued a notification to declare emergency in Murree.

In a statement, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar said that rescuing stranded tourists was the "foremost priority."

He said that the biggest challenge is to evacuate the area. There are still people taking selfies here. They are not understanding the severity of the situation.

Timely measures not taken

The director-general of the Met Office told SAMAA TV that a written forecast of snowfall in upper parts of Punjab was issued on December 31. "The situation worsened because measures were not taken timely," he said.

The deaths took place because roads were blocked and people were stuck in their cars for hours. They couldn't reach hotels.

Hassaan Khawar, spokesperson of the Punjab government, in a press conference later in the day, said that the government was aware an emergency situation could take place. "But we didn't know it would be this bad."

The traffic jam on the Kaldana Road occurred because the area joins Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. He added that machinery is on the way and the rescue operation is being monitored by CM Buzdar himself.

Another spell tonight

Snowfall in Murree began on Tuesday and continued till Friday in intervals. This attracted the tourists.

Chief Traffic Officer Taimoor Khan, in a statement, said that after the snowfall started, more than 155,000 vehicles entered Murree of which 135,000 have so far left.

He added that during this time massive traffic jams were seen on two main roads – old Rawalpindi-Murree Road and Murree Expressway.

So far, 32 inches of snowfall have been recorded in the hill station. The temperature has been recorded at -1 degrees Celsius.

The Met office has, on the other hand, said that the hill station will receive another spell of snow with blizzards and thunderstorms tonight. To prevent further destruction, a control room has been formed inside the Rawalpindi deputy commissioner's office.

Despite the warnings and alerts, it was seen that tourists were still heading towards Murree Saturday afternoon, SAMAA TV's Aslam Khokhar reported. They fought with the police and district administration when stopped.

PM Imran orders inquiry

Later in the day, Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted that he was shocked and upset at the tragedy and ordered an inquiry.

In an interview with SAMAA TV, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the situation is not only dire in Murree but also in several other neighbouring areas.

He urged people to "use common sense" and stay at home. "Buy snow sprays instead of going out."

 
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2 Comments

  1. poiytr  January 9, 2022 1:30 am/ Reply

    Perhaps saving people is the task tiger forces should have done….(if any exist in muree) (of course in coordination with authorities of muree,given complications like covid restrictions)

  2. lkjpoi  January 9, 2022 5:48 am/ Reply

    Govt should issue disaster and extreme weather forecast alerts via SMS.
    Often to to provide more service like snow removal could mean raising taxes. Building profit making institutions is hard, since each time a new govt can put in their cronies. Perhaps political parties should create businesses(like Candyland candies) to fund there wellfare projects.
    Edhi and Cheepa should perhaps expand operations and diversify too.

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