- Government deploys Pakistan Army, civil-armed forces to evacuate tourists from Murree.
- Thousands of tourists left stranded as routes to Malka-e-Kohsar closed due to snowfall.
- Around 125,000 vehicles enter city causing a severe traffic jam.
The federal government on Saturday deployed personnel of the Pakistan Army and other civil-armed forces for rescue operations in Murree following the tragic deaths of at least 21 tourists who died in their vehicles after being stranded due to heavy snowfall in the area.
All the routes in Murree were blocked for traffic after thousands of vehicles entered the city at a time when “unprecedented snowfall” took place, according to local administration.
In a video message, Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed said the crisis unfolded as Murree witnessed “a huge number of tourists after 15-20 years”.
Rasheed said the government was forced to close the road from Islamabad to Murree. “Islamabad and Rawalpindi’s commissioners, deputy commissioners, and police are carrying out rescue operations,” he said.
The interior minister said five platoons of the Pakistan Army have been called in for rescue efforts, while Rangers and Frontier Corps will be deployed on an emergency basis.
“At least 1,000 vehicles have been stuck since last night […] some have been evacuated; 16-19 deaths took place in cars. The locals provided food and blankets to the stranded people.”
The interior minister said the authorities would evacuate 1,000 vehicles by today evening, while the roads would remain closed to Murree till tomorrow 9pm.
“We have also decided to ban tourists who are planning on coming to Murree on foot; this is not the time to come to Murree,” Rasheed said.
‘Tourists did not die of cold’
Talking to Geo.tv, SHO Murree Police Station Raja Rasheed said: “There has been over 4 to 4.5 feet of snowfall in Murree. There has never been this much snowfall in this area.”
He said that most of the people who died in Murree did not die due to the cold, they died as they left their heaters on in the car and went to sleep.
“The fumes from the heater killed them.”
‘Government responsible for cousin’s death’
Tayyab Gondal, the cousin of Naveed Iqbal, a police official who died in Murree, blamed the “incompetent” government for his relative’s death, as he broke into tears.
Talking to Geo News, he said scores of vehicles have been stuck in Murree for the last 24 hours, while as many as 4,000 vehicles were stranded on the Nathia Gali Road.
“The road from GT Road to Murree was clear; the flow of traffic stopped as soon as we entered Murree. The local administration did not stop us at the toll plaza,” Gondal said.
Gondal said: “Had it not been for the government’s negligence, my family members would still be alive. The [death of the people] is due to the government’s incompetence.”
“We have tourist spots but no one to look after them,” he said.
He added that several families are still waiting for someone to rescue them. “I sent my live location to [the local administration], but no one reached out to help me.”
ASI Iqbal, his wife, four daughters, and two sons are among the deceased, according to rescue officials.
Punjab declares Murree calamity-hit area
The Punjab government has declared Murree as a calamity-hit area after heavy snowfall wreaked havoc in the city. Taking notice of the chaos and emergency situation, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has directed to open the government’s offices and rest houses for the stranded tourists.
He directed to provide every possible relief to the tourists and accelerate the ongoing rescue operation to evacuate the people from the hill station.
The chief minister ordered to move additional resources from Rawalpindi and other cities to Murree to speed up the relief operation.
CM Buzdar also directed to send his official helicopter to Murree for the rescue mission.
‘Shocked’ prime minister
Prime Minister Imran Khan, responding to the incident, said: “Shocked and upset at tragic deaths of tourists on road to Murree.”
He mentioned that “unprecedented snowfall and rush of people proceeding without checking weather conditions caught district administration unprepared”.
The prime minister said he has ordered an inquiry into the matter and was putting in place a “strong regulation” to ensure the prevention of such tragedies in the future.
According to the local administration, rain and blizzards are forecast tonight in and around Murree, with thunderstorms at a speed of 50-90 kmph and heavy snowfall.
The administration has warned the citizens not to leave their homes in severe weather or turn to Murree as severe weather conditions are likely to continue till late at night.
Tourists throng to Murree
For the last two days, continuous snowfall has been taking place in Murree, and with that, hundreds of thousands of tourists are heading towards the town.
Geo News, citing officials, reported that an estimated 125,000 vehicles have entered the city so far, due to which severe traffic jam was witnessed on the roads.
Rawalpindi deputy commissioner has confirmed that that the road leading to the tourist site has been closed at Bhara Kahu tool plaza to deal with the situation.
Thousands of tourists, including women and children, have been trapped on the roads in the area since last night. Officials of the traffic police, however, were making their efforts to restore the flow of traffic on the roads.
The tourists have demanded of the government to help evacuate them from the area.
Taking to Twitter, Rawalpindi deputy commissioner said, “Around 23000 vehicles have been evacuated safely from Murree. Around 1000 are still stranded.”
He maintained that the district admin is working round the clock to evacuate the remaining vehicles safely.
Govt appeals to postpone plan for a few days
Earlier, Sheikh Rasheed had appealed to the tourists, especially families, to refrain from travelling to Murree and Galyat.
He had maintained that the tourists will not be allowed to go beyond 17 Mile Interchange. However, citizens with an extreme emergency will be granted permission to travel to Murree and Galyat.
Similarly, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that a large number of vehicles were heading towards Murree and other hilly areas, making it impossible for the local administration to facilitate them.
He urged the people to postpone their plan for a few days.