At least 19 tourists stranded in their vehicles succumbed to the extreme weather during a snowstorm in Murree on Friday night, said Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid on Saturday.
According to the minister who arrived in Murree to monitor the rescue operation, hundreds of vehicles were stranded in Murree whereas over 23,000 vehicles have been rescued.
The interior minister said at least all vehicles have been rescued in Guliyat, whereas the vehicles in the Guldana region are still stranded that would be rescued soon. All types of traffic entering Murree from Rawalpindi and Islamabad has been banned till the end of the rescue operations, he added.
The minister said heavy machinery has been called in to clear the roads and the help of the civil armed forces and the military has been sought to rescue the stranded tourists. The authorities have decided to use helicopters for rescue operations as well after the weather clears, he added.
Meanwhile, the Punjab government has imposed an emergency in the region, declaring it a calamity-hit area, amid fears the death toll may increase.
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has ordered the government guest houses in the area to give refuge to the stranded tourists. Emergency has been declared in all the important departments including police, administration, rescue 1122 and hospitals, Radio Pakistan reported.
Buzdar said that evacuating the stranded tourists is the top priority of the government, adding that the tourists are being provided with necessary relief items, including food supplies.
Separately, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry requested the tourists not to plan trips towards upper areas of the country for a few days. He said a large number of people were going towards Murree and other places in the northern areas, adding that millions of vehicles were heading towards these spots.
The minister said it has become impossible for the local administration to facilitate such a large number of people. He urged the people still at home to postpone their plans for a few days.
PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif expressed grief over the death of tourists and blamed the government’s incompetence for the loss of lives. He said such is the level of incompetence that the government cannot even take administrative measures to facilitate traffic movement.
“If a government cannot rescue a mere 1,000 vehicles then it has no moral authority to stay in power,” he added. He extended solidarity to the families of the deceased and prayed for the departed.