22 freeze to death in cars, Murree declared calamity hit3 min read
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s hill station Murree was declared calamity hit on Saturday after 22 people froze to death in cars stranded in snow amid a glut of tourist influx.
Prime Minister Imran Khan says district admin was ‘caught unprepared’, ordered an inquiry against the administration.
Prime Minister expressed sorrow and regret over the deaths in Murree, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Political Communication Shahbaz Gill shared on Twitter.
“All agencies have been mobilised. Army, 1122, Hazara div(KP) and Pindi div (Punjab) resources are mobilised to open up [and] clear the blocked areas,” he added.
Later, the Prime Minister tweeted himself, acknowledging that district administration was “caught unprepared” due to “unprecedented snowfall and rush of people proceeding without checking weather conditions”.
“I have ordered an inquiry and putting in place strong regulation to ensure prevention of such tragedies.”
Television footage showed that thousands of cars loaded with tourists were still stuck on the routes leading to the hill station on Saturday evening, hours after Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar issued instructions to expedite rescue work and provide aid to the stranded tourists.
However, in a tweet in the evening, Buzdar claimed that all those stranded had been moved to government rest houses and hotels, adding that they were being provided with food, medicines, blankets and other essentials.
Meanwhile, entry of cars into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Galiyat was banned, according to the province’s chief minister.
A list issued by Rescue 1122 said 22 people died, including 10 children. The deceased include an assistant sub-inspector of Islamabad police and seven members of his family.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, in a video message, said tourists had flocked to the hill station in such large numbers “for the first time in 15 to 20 years which created a big crisis”.
He said Rawalpindi and Islamabad administrations, along with police, had been working to rescue those stranded, while five platoons of the Pakistan Army, as well as Rangers and Frontier Corps, were called on an emergency basis.
The minister said that around 1,000 cars were stuck on the hill station.
Ahmed said that residents of Murree provided food and blankets to stranded tourists, adding that the administration had closed all routes to the hill station and was now allowing only vehicles planning to take food and blankets.
“God willing, we will rescue 1,000 cars by evening today. We have decided to stop people [travelling] on foot as well. It is no time for pedestrian tourists to visit.”
The Pakistan Meteorological Department had predicted heavy snowfall in Murree and Galiyat from January 6 to 9.
Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar declared Murree calamity hit and imposed a state of emergency in hospitals, police stations, administration offices and Rescue 1122 services.
He also directed the provincial chief secretary, inspector general of police, relief commissioner, director general Rescue 1122 and director general of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) to undertake rescue work, in addition to providing his helicopter to help with aid efforts.
More than 23,000 cars were evacuated from the area the night before and the rescue operation was going on, he shared. Buzdar appealed to people to strictly follow instructions given by the police and district administration and cooperate with them.
Pakistan Army troops reached Murree to help with the rescue work. In a statement, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said army engineers also reached the area to help open up the main highways.
The military’s media wing later said that its engineers had cleared Murree Expressway.
“Heavy machinery from Murree, army engineers division and FWO are working without any pause to assist people who are struck,” the ISPR said, adding: “Where machinery can’t reach, troops have been moved and they are clearing traffic and opening roads.”
In a statement, KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan said he was keeping a close eye on the situation in Galiyat which has also been overcrowded with tourists in the current winter season.
The entry of cars into Galiyat has been banned completely, he said, adding that no untoward accident had occurred in the area where three feet of snow fell a day earlier.