Pakistan sets up committee to investigate Murree tourists deaths

The committee has a week to determine responsibility after at least 21 people died in freezing temperatures.

At least 21 people died overnight when they were unable to receive food or medical attention.
At least 21 people died overnight when they were unable to receive food or medical attention. [Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR)/Handout via Reuters]

Karachi, Pakistan – A committee has been created by the Pakistan government to investigate the lapses that led to the deaths of at least 21 tourists in a snow-induced traffic jam in the northern hill station of Murree.

On Sunday, the Punjab provincial government announced the formation of the five-member committee which will “complete the inquiry and determine responsibility [within] seven days”, provincial government spokesman Azhar Mashwani said.

The committee will investigate, among other things, whether severe weather warnings were issued and disseminated adequately, whether there were mechanisms in place to regulate the flow of traffic into the popular tourist resort town and why the entry of vehicles was not stopped once the number of tourists became “unsustainable”, according to a government document.

According to government figures, more than 157,000 vehicles, mainly belonging to tourists, entered Murree between Friday and Saturday, when the snowfall began.

The hill station is a popular tourist destination, located roughly 40km (25 miles) from the Pakistani capital Islamabad and attracts tens of thousands of visitors annually.

On Friday, a number of incoming vehicles were trapped by the heavy snowfall on the town’s congested roads, with rescue officials saying at least 21 people died overnight when they were unable to receive food or medical attention.

On Saturday, the government deployed military forces to aid the local administration’s road clearance and rescue efforts and shut down all entries and exits into the area until work was completed.

Later on Sunday, the military declared all roads cleared of snow and other debris, according to a statement.

Roads, however, remained closed for traffic on Monday by government orders.

According to government statements, all stranded tourists have been rescued from their vehicles, although it is unclear how many have been evacuated from relief camps established in the area.

The government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has come under fire after the incident, with many criticising its response and preparedness for extreme weather conditions.

On Sunday, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar announced plans to upgrade the administrative infrastructure in Murree, lifting its status to a full administrative district, establishing new police stations and building two new parking plazas in the town’s busiest areas.

Source: Al Jazeera