Over 20 people reported dead after closure of roads leaves thousands of vehicles stranded in freezing weather
At least 21 people have been reported dead in Murree following heavy snowfall that caused hours-long traffic blockades, trapping thousands inside their vehicles in freezing weather, prompting the government to deploy paramilitary Rangers and personnel of the Pakistan Army to the area for rescue operations.
According to a statement issued by Rescue 1122 in Murree, 21 people have thus far been confirmed dead. Among the deceased is a family of 8—Islamabad Police ASI Naveed Iqbal, his wife, and their six children—and a family of 5, including three minor children. Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a statement posted on Twitter, said he had ordered an inquiry into the tragedy.
“Shocked and upset at tragic deaths of tourists on road to Murree,” he said. “Unprecedented snowfall and rush of people proceeding without checking weather conditions caught district administration unprepared. Have ordered inquiry and putting in place strong regulation to ensure prevention of such tragedies,” he added.
In an earlier video statement, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the hill station has “seen a huge number of tourists” after 15-20 years. The unanticipated influx, he said, had caused the crisis, forcing the government to close all roads leading from Islamabad to Murree. In addition to the civil administration, he said, five platoons of the Pakistan Army have been deployed for rescue efforts and Rangers and Frontier Corps personnel were also being deployed to help cope with the emergency situation.
“As many as 1,000 vehicles have been stuck since night … 16-19 deaths took place in cars. The locals have provided food and blankets to the stranded people,” he said, adding that authorities hoped to evacuate the stranded vehicles by evening.
The interior minister urged citizens to avoid any non-emergency travel to Murree right now, stressing that all roads would remain closed until 9 p.m. tomorrow (Sunday). “We have also decided to ban tourists who are planning on walk to Murree; this is not the time to come to Murree,” he added.
Snowfall in Murree annually attracts tourists to the hill station, a trend that continued this year, drawing an estimated 125,000 vehicles in the past two or three days. The large influx of vehicles—the local administration estimates that Murree only has sufficient parking capacity for 25,000 vehicles—coupled with the excessive snowfall, resulted in severe traffic congestion, leaving thousands of cars stranded for hours. The government had, a day earlier, announced it was closing all roads leading to Murree to prevent any further influx.
In a posting on Twitter, the Rawalpindi deputy commissioner said that around 23,000 vehicles had been evacuated safely thus far; around 1,000 remained stranded. He said the district administration was working round-the-clock to evacuate all remaining vehicles safely.
Earlier, both the interior minister and Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain had advised tourists against traveling to Murree due to the inclement weather. In a posting on Twitter, Fawad said the large influx of vehicles heading toward the northern areas had overburdened the local infrastructure and urged travelers to postpone their plans for two or three days. Just two days earlier, the information minister had been hailing the massive influx of tourists to Murree as evidence of economic prosperity.