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Death toll in Murree tourist tragedy rises to 22

Updated 19 Mar, 2022
An aerial view of the road cleared in Murree. Civil Administration with police helps a vehicle to leave the road. Photo: Twitter.com/@RwpPolice
An aerial view of the road cleared in Murree. Civil Administration with police helps a vehicle to leave the road. Photo: Twitter.com/@RwpPolice

At least 22 people lost their lives after being stranded in their cars en-route to Murree amid heavy snowfall.

The rescue officials issued a list of victims that included at least nine children.

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The Punjab government has announced that it would form a three-member committee to investigate the incident, according to Aaj News.

Reacting to the incident, Prime Minister Imran Khan said that he was shocked and upset at the tragic deaths of tourists on road to Murree. "Unprecedented snowfall & rush of people proceeding without checking weather conditions caught district administration unprepared. Have ordered inquiry & put in place strong regulations to ensure prevention of such tragedies," he said in a tweet.

Earlier today, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said between 16 to 19 tourists, who were travelling to Murree and stuck in their cars amid heavy snowfall, have died, reported Aaj News.

The government decided to seek help from armed forces to evacuate vehicles from the area and save lives of the people as Rawalpindi and Islamabad administration had failed from last night, despite closure of roads, said the interior minister.

They failed because for the first time a large number of tourists have flocked to Murree, Galiyat and Barrian, he added. Other than vehicles, a large number of people were also travelling to the hill station on foot.

According to the Inter-Services Public Relations, the personnel of Pakistan army were busy with the civil administration in the rescue efforts.

“Army engineers’ troops have opened the Jhika Gali Road – Gharial and they are busy in opening the Kuldana Road,” the armed forces media wing said in a statement.

Frontier Works Organisation dozers were working on express way road opening, it read, adding that stranded people have been moved to Army Public School Kuldana for shelter and food. Dozers have been moved from Muzafarabad, it added.

Moreover, FWO dozers and army engineers have opened Murree Express way. The ISPR added that army has established four camps at the military college Murree, Jhika Gali, APS Kuldana, Station Supply Depot Sunny Bank. All resources at the disposal of the Murree Division in terms of engineers’ machinery mobilized, it read.

Rashid in a video message urged tourists not to travel to Murree and informed that the administration had closed all roads leading to Murree till Sunday (tomorrow) 9pm.

He urged local people to provide blankets and other necessities to tourists who were stuck in their cars.

He also said despite casualties from harsh weather, other people are safe and the administration were continue their efforts in evacuating tourists from Murree.

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has imposed an emergency in the wake of the incident and declared Murree a “disaster-stricken area”.

According to a statement shared on Twitter, all rest houses and government institutions in Murree and adjoining areas have been opened for tourists. The CM also gave his helicopter for rescue activities and will take part in relief activities as soon as the weather improves, it read.

The provincial government has directed all agencies to expedite the process of rescue and evacuation of citizens and vehicles trapped in the snow and to send more machinery and relief goods from Rawalpindi. More than 23,000 vehicles were evacuated from the area last night and the rescue operation is under way, it added.

“Emergency has been declared in all the institutions in view of the situation in Murree. A state of emergency has been declared in police, administration, rescue 1122 and hospitals,” CM Bazdar was quoted as saying in the tweet.

In another video posted on Radio Pakistan's Twitter account, Rashid said for the first time in 15 to 20 years history of Pakistan a large number of tourists flocked to Murree, causing “crisis” on the hill station. “The government has to close roads leading to Murree,” he said.

“The government is only allowing only those vehicles towards Muree providing relief items, including blankets, food and other necessities,” said Rashid.

Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed sorrow and regrets on the Murree tragedy due to heavy snow fall and blockades, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Political Communication Shahbaz Gill tweeted.

On Friday, Rashid in a series of tweets urged tourists to avoid visiting Murree and Galyat in view of the rush of travellers in the snow-capped area.

“More than 100,000 vehicles have reached Muree via Islamabad route. The Murree administration and Islamabad are working 24 hours for the public service. The traffic towards Murree is very slow because of the increased rush of the public. I appeal to tourists, especially families to avoid travelling to Murree and Galyat for now,” it read.

In view of the situation, he added that the government has temporarily stopped tourists from visiting the area. “Tourists travelling towards Murree and Galyat will not be allowed to go forward the 17 Mill Interchange,” he said, “only on emergency situations, citizens will be allowed to travel the areas.”

Rashid stressed that the decision was also taken in order to facilitate the returning tourists from Murree and Galyat, adding that families and other tourists were being safely brought down from the area.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry also requested the tourists to temporarily halt their travelling plans for the snow-covered areas in Murree and other northern areas.

“Millions of vehicles are heading towards these areas. It has become impossible for the local administration to provide facilities to such a large number of people. Those people who are now at home are requested to postpone their plans for a few days,” he tweeted.

Opposition leader in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif expressed sorrow over the death of tourists in Murree, saying he was “heartbroken to learn about the loss of so many precious lives.”

More snowfall is expected in Murree with gusty winds today (on Saturday), while minimum temperature on the hill station will remain between -3 to -1 degree centigrade, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Department forecast.

In the past 24 hours, at least 17 inches snowfall was recorded in Murree, as per the Met department data.

Many people have also taken to Twitter to recall a tweet by the Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad about tourism booming in Murree, saying it may have prompted people to visit when the infrastructure wasn't prepared for such a large influx.

Fawad wrote "at least 0.1 million vehicles have entered in Muree... the increase in tourism reflects prosperity and rise in income of common men in the country."