Deadly snowstorm traps hundreds of tourists in their cars in Pakistan

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Pakistani rescuers were working on Sunday to clear the roads to a locked hill town sheltering thousands of tourists after 22 people died in vehicles trapped by heavy snowfall.

The resort town of Murree, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) northeast of Islamabad, was inundated with tourists and day-trippers last week after unusually heavy snow turned it into a winter wonderland.

But a blizzard from Friday knocked down trees and blocked narrow roads leading in and out of the city, which clings to steep hills and valleys at an elevation of 2,300 meters (7 500 feet).

“It was not snow, and not even heavy snow, it was unprecedented (…) with four to five feet in a few hours,” Tariq Ullah, an official told AFP on Sunday. administration of the neighboring town of Nathia Gali.

“(I) have never seen such a huge snowstorm in my life. There were strong winds, uprooted trees, avalanches. People around were terrified, each with their own story of the suffering.”

Authorities said nearly 100,000 visitors in thousands of vehicles swarmed the city on Friday, causing massive traffic jams even before the blizzard.

They said 22 people died in vehicles stuck in the snow overnight Friday – either from the cold or from carbon monoxide poisoning from the exhaust gases generated by drivers running engines for themselves. warm up.

They included 10 children – six who died alongside their mother and father, a policeman.

“We turn on the heating and go to sleep,” the Dawn newspaper said, quoting Deputy Inspector Naveed Iqbal in a final appeal to her son in the capital.

Early warning

Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was shocked and upset by the tragedy, but the unprecedented snowfall and influx of people “caught the district administrator off guard”.

Several Pakistani newspapers, however, blasted administrators on Sunday, noting that the country’s meteorological office warned as early as Jan.6 of the approaching blizzard.

“All concerned authorities are particularly advised to remain ‘ALERT’ during the forecast period,” the National Weather Forecast Center said on Thursday, adding that “heavy snowfall” could lead to road closures in Murree and somewhere else.

Authorities have promised an investigation.

“Our first priority was the rescue, which is underway, then the rescue,” Hasaan Khawar, spokesperson for the provincial government of Punjab, tweeted on Sunday.

“Then a high-level investigation will be launched and if there is any negligence, action will be taken against everyone involved.”

The Pakistani military’s public relations department said it removed all survivors from car bombs along the road to Murree and took them to shelters set up in the town.

More than 1,000 abandoned vehicles along the road were hampering bulldozers’ efforts to clear the roads, he said, and in some areas troops were using shovels.

Ahead of the weekend, Pakistani social media was teeming with photos and videos of people playing in the snow around Murree, a picturesque seaside resort built by the British in the 19th century as a sanatorium for its colonial troops.

Authorities warned as early as last weekend that too many vehicles were attempting to enter the city, but even that failed to deter the hordes of day-trippers from the capital.

Many Pakistanis complained on social media on Sunday that hoteliers and guesthouse owners in Murree had compounded the problem by raising prices, prompting stranded people to spend the night in their cars rather than paying for a room. .

“Things would have been different if the locals and the hotels had cooperated, but the reputation and conduct of the people of Murree is very bad in this regard,” a senior government official told AFP on condition of anonymity. .

However, there have also been reports of locals opening their homes to stranded tourists and offering food and blankets to those caught in the open.


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