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Punjab govt to probe Murree tourist tragedy from ‘every angle’

08 Jan, 2022
Punjab government spokesperson Hassan Khawar addresses a press conference in Lahore. Screegrab/Facebook.com/Govt of Punjab
Punjab government spokesperson Hassan Khawar addresses a press conference in Lahore. Screegrab/Facebook.com/Govt of Punjab

The Punjab government on Saturday said that a thorough probe would be conducted into the Murree tourist tragedy in which 21 people – including seven members of a family – died, highlighting the lack of resources and capacity to deal with an influx of tourists in the face of a disaster.

“I think the governments should take responsibility for any incident that happens in their tenure. We should see whether this incident was ‘avoidable’ or ‘unavoidable,’” Punjab government spokesperson Hassan Khawar told reporters in Lahore.

According to Rescue 1122 Murree, at least 21 people froze to death while their cars were stuck en-route to Murree amid heavy snowfall. The deceased included an ASI and six members of his family.

Videos of the cars snowed in are making the rounds on social media and users have been questioning the government’s response to the disaster. The videos include harrowing visuals showing an entire family found dead inside their vehicle.

Amidst all this, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry’s January 5 tweet has also been shared, in which he had attributed the country’s “progress” to the increased number of tourists in Murree.

US-based infectious diseases expert Dr Faheem Younus highlighted the other contributing factor in the death reports. “Were the deaths caused by cold or carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning? CO is odorless, lethal. If an idling car is buried in snow, the blocked exhaust (silencer) can quickly kill the passengers as they breath CO,” he said in a tweet.

Elaborating on the relief efforts, the Punjab government spokesperson said that all government offices and rest houses would be open for the people stuck in the area. He added that emergency has been imposed in all departments and Murree and its suburbs have been declared “calamity-hit areas.”

All possible resources were being provided to rescue officials, he said, adding that machines from Rawalpindi and other areas were being sent to Murree. He said Rescue 1122 teams have been mobilised from Rawalpindi, Attock, and Jhelum.

The provincial government spokesperson said that control rooms have been established in the Rawalpindi deputy commissioner and Murree AC offices to monitor the situation. Furthermore, he said provincial departments, NLC and FWO were helping in the rescue efforts and they have called for the army’s assistance in the relief work.

Khawar added that trucks laden with goods were given a green signal to travel into the area to cater to fuel and food needs.

On the traffic, he said that to some extent traffic was running on the expressway but it was blocked on the Kuldwana site.

“It was forecast that there will be heavy rain this time. We were monitoring the situation and the number of vehicles entering Murree. We had estimated that there might be a traffic problem but we didn’t expect this,” Khawar said, lamenting that the flow of traffic surpassed the estimated limit.

“Traffic from Kuldwana comes from many sides because it’s located between two provinces. Local traffic and increased flow of tourists caused a traffic jam and this incident happened,” he said. “People died in four vehicles and no tree fell there. It’s obvious there was cold, snowfall, blizzard but the final report will be given by 1122.”

He added that the government “to a great extent” tried to avert the situation.

“We will see the whole record after this incident, we will look into the fact did anybody call for help and whether anybody responded or not,” he said, “the purpose of the inquiry is to ascertain facts to conduct the inquiry against officials involved.”

Khawar stressed the need for long term planning to build more tourists spots to overcome the pressure on a single destination.

He advised political parties to avoid doing politics on such issues. The situation would be under control in 1-2 days then people can travel, the Punjab government spokesperson said, adding that they would release the traffic estimates to the public.