Snow-trapped tourists rescued in Pakistan

Heavy snow buried vehicles with 21 people killed and thousands stranded.

Army soldiers clear road covered with snow in Murree, around 70 kilometres northeast of Islamabad.
Soldiers clear a road buried in snow in Murree, 40km northeast of the capital Islamabad [Inter Services Public Relations via AFP]

Karachi, Pakistan – Authorities say they rescued all stranded tourists in the northern hill station of Murree after heavy snow trapped thousands in their vehicles and killed at least 21 people.

The military and teams from the local administration continued to work on Sunday to clear the roads of the more than 1.2 metres (4 feet) of snow that fell over the weekend, trapping tens of thousands of vehicles of tourists flocking to the popular hill resort, 40km (25 miles) northeast of the capital Islamabad.

“All stranded vehicles have been checked [and] all people in those vehicles shifted to relief camps,” said a military statement released late on Saturday.

At least 157,665 vehicles had entered the small town on Friday and Saturday, with roughly 400 vehicles still stuck in the snow, an adviser to provincial Chief Minister Usman Buzdar said in a statement on Saturday.

The military said it provided medical care to more than 300 tourists on Saturday, with more than 1,000 served food at relief camps in the area.

Some roads were reopened after they were cleared of snow but others remained closed, either because of icy conditions or ongoing clearance work, the military statement said.

The deaths drew widespread criticism of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government from citizens on social media, with many questioning Khan’s statement on the issue.

“Shocked [and] upset at tragic deaths of tourists on road to Murree,” Khan tweeted on Saturday. “Unprecedented snowfall [and] rush of [people] proceeding without checking weather conditions caught district admin unprepared.”

“So it’s only [the] visitors fault? What’s the mechanism to alert people who enter these areas?” questioned senior journalist Asma Shirazi.

Others called for an independent inquiry into why the government had not foreseen or forestalled the situation from developing.

“Relief [operations] for tourists still stranded in the snow in Murree is the priority now. But the relief operation pictures mustn’t be used for clearing ANYBODY from the terrible failure on Jan 6/7,” said opposition political leader Afrasiab Khattak. “Only an independent inquiry for apportioning responsibility is the right answer.”

Source: Al Jazeera