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ISLAMABAD: At least 21 people including children, who were stranded in their vehicles on snow-covered roads leading to Murree due to heavy snowfall, died of cold weather on Friday night, witnesses and rescue officials said. Murree was crowded after thousands of tourists in over 100,000 vehicles headed there to witness snowfall, which had continued for the last few days.

On January 5, the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) had predicted heavy snowfall in Murree and Galiyat from January 6 to 9, but many blamed poor planning to handle the tourist influx in time.

The PMD has also predicted that heavy snowfall may cause road closures in Murree, Galiyat, Nathiagali, and Kaghan from January 6 to January 9. The possibility of avalanches/landslides in the vulnerable areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Kashmir cannot be ruled out during the period. All concerned authorities are particularly advised to remain ‘ALERT’ during the forecast period, it had said.

The dead include an Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Naveed Iqbal, his three daughters, a son, and a sister. The late ASI was the resident of Dadhial village, Chakwal district, Talagang. Others who died in Murree include Zahid resident of Kamalabad, Ishfaq resident of Gujranwala, Marooq resident of Lahore, an unidentified person, Sohail Khan resident of Mardan, Asad resident of Mardan, Muhammad Bilal resident of Karachi, Muhammad Shehzad, his wife, and his two children, resident of Rawalpindi.

Initially, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid claimed that 16 to 19 people died due to heavy snowfall; however, the reports were still coming from various tourist spots, and till the filing of this report the death toll had reached 21.

Death toll in calamity-hit Murree rises to 22

The minister said after reports of thousands of stranded vehicles carrying women and children, the government imposed a ban on the entry of tourists in the Murree and the Galiyat region on Friday. He said that the government has sought assistance from civil-armed forces to evacuate the tourists from the area as well.

This is for the first time in 15 to 20 years that such an influx of tourists was seen in Murree, he said, adding that the district administration of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, police, are also carrying out rescue operations.

Rasheed said five platoons of the Pakistan Army have been called in for rescue efforts, while Rangers and Frontier Corps (FC) have also been deployed on an emergency basis. “As many as 1,000 vehicles have been stuck since last night some have been evacuated,” he said that so far 19 people have lost their lives.

The minister said that the district administration and other rescue forces would evacuate 1,000 vehicles by Saturday evening, while the roads would remain closed to Murree till Sunday 9 pm. Meanwhile, the Punjab government has declared Murree “calamity-hit” and imposed a state of emergency in hospitals, police stations, administration offices, and Rescue 1122 services.

Moreover, entry of cars into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Galiyat was banned, according to the KP chief minister. The Punjab government has 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.

According to a statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Pakistan Army troops reached Murree to help with the rescue work. The army engineers also reached the area to help open up the main highways, it says.

“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 cannot reach, troops have been moved and they are clearing traffic and opening roads.”

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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