Calamity in Murree as 20 tourists freeze to death in cars | The Express Tribune


MURREE:

At least 20 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.

Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was ‘shocked’ and ‘upset’ by the tragedy in Murree as he ordered an inquiry into the incident.

“Unprecedented snowfall & rush of ppl proceeding without checking weather conditions caught district admin unprepared,” the premier stated.

 

The PM said he had ordered an inquiry into the incident and was “putting in place strong regulation to ensure prevention of such tragedies”.

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.

Troops called in for assistance

In a statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) regarding the rescue operation, the army said a Control Division has been established at Murree Division.

In order to facilitate stranded tourists, rescue centres have been established at Army Public School and Army School of Logistics in Kuldana, it said, adding that food and other essentials, including heating, were being provided to the tourists.

It said the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) and Pakistan Army engineers were working round the clock to assist people, adding that heavy machinery has been deployed to clear roads.

“Where machinery can’t reach, troops have been moved and they are clearing traffic and opening roads,” it added.

‘Emergency imposed’

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.

At least 20 dead

According to a statement, the tourists got stuck in the region on Friday at 11am after heavy snowfall resulted in massive traffic jams. It said a special rescue operation by the army started on January 8 and was still underway at the time this report was published.

Read Plan afoot to keep Muree roads snow-free

At least 20 bodies have been recovered which were shifted to the Army School of Logistics. It is feared the death toll will increase further.

Among the deceased is an officer of the Islamabad police, ASI M Naveed Iqbal, 49, along with his 43-year-old wife and six kids – four daughters and two sons. They were travelling in a car bearing an Islamabad registration number 483.

The deceased include 27-year-old Zahid, son of Zahoor, resident of Kamalabad, travelling in a Bolan carry.

Thirty-one-year-old Ishfaq, son of Younis, resident of Gujranwala, travelling in a car registered as LEA 9312. Another body was identified as 31-year-old Maroof, son of Ashraf, resident of Lahore, who was travelling in a car registered as LEA 9312.

Sohail Khan s/o Fazal, 27, a resident of Mardan was travelling in a car registered as VXR NG-424. Along with him, 22-year-old Asad, son of Zaman Shah, 21-year-old Bilal s/o Ghaffar, and 24-year-old Bilal Hussain s/o Syed Ghous Khan were also found dead in the car.

A Rawalpindi family was also among the deceased. It comprised 46-year-old M Shahzad, son of Ismail, his 35-year-old wife and two sons.

A 30-year-old, who was a resident of Lahore, travelling in a car bearing registration number LEA 9312 could not be identified.

‘Incompetent government’

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.

 

“What a massive tragedy Murree is turning out to be! Heartbroken to learn about the loss of so many precious lives. My profound condolences & sympathies are with the bereaved families. May Allah rest the departed souls in peace,” he added.

PPP Senator Sherry Rehman termed the loss of precious lives a “massive tragedy”. She said the government surely needed to be more vigilant about the tourists influx in extreme weather conditions.

“These were tragic and avoidable losses which no one intended, but no one acted in time either,” the senator tweeted.

She also urged the government to ramp up disaster preparedness.

The PPP leader urged social media users to exercise restraint and stop posting about the people who have passed away.

 




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