New Delhi: The provincial government in Pakistan’s Punjab declared a state of emergency in the hill station of Murree Saturday after the death of at least 21 people, including nine children, stranded in cars amid a traffic congestion in the tourist destination.
The traffic congestion was reportedly precipitated by heavy snowfall, described as unprecedented in intensity, and a massive influx of tourists in Murree that is said to be only equipped to handle around 4,000 vehicles.
The exact cause of the tourists’ deaths is yet to be determined. While some media reports claimed they froze to death, the station house officer for the Murree police station, Raja Rasheed, was quoted by Geo News as saying that the tourists “died as they left their heaters on in the car and went to sleep”.
“The fumes from the heater killed them,” he added.
Top infectious disease expert Faheem Younus wondered on Twitter if the deaths were “due to cold or carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning” from blocked exhausts of the vehicles.
Tragic news from #Murree
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 COhttps://t.co/Fq1bKLOio4
— Faheem Younus, MD (@FaheemYounus) January 8, 2022
Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “shocked and upset” by the tragedy, adding that an inquiry has been ordered.
Shocked & upset at tragic deaths of tourists on road to Murree. Unprecedented snowfall & rush of ppl proceeding without checking weather conditions caught district admin unprepared. Have ordered inquiry & putting in place strong regulation to ensure prevention of such tragedies.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) January 8, 2022
As of Saturday afternoon, personnel of the Pakistan Army and Rangers were involved in rescue efforts to evacuate people from the snowstorm-hit areas of Murree and the larger hilly Galiyat region.
وزیراعلیٰ پنجاب نے مری میں ایمرجنسی نافذ کر دی
پولیس، انتظامیہ، ریسکیو 1122 اور ہسپتالوں میں ہنگامی حالت کا نفاذ کیا گیا ہے
ریسکیو کےلیے فوج اور رینجرز کےدستے بھی طلب کر لیےگئے
چیف سیکرٹری، IG پولیس، ریلیف کمشنر، DG ریسکیو اور PDMA کو ریسکیو سرگرمیوں کی خود مانیٹرنگ کی ہدایت
— Government of Punjab (@GovtofPunjabPK) January 8, 2022
“I appreciate the arrangements and efforts of police, administration and rescue teams to manage huge influx of tourists in Murree areas, during snowfall,” said Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, adding that more than 23,000 vehicles were evacuated from the area Friday night.
Shehbaz Sharif, Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly and former Punjab CM, also expressed regret for the tragedy on Twitter.
What a massive tragedy Murree is turning out to be! Heartbroken to learn about the loss of so many precious lives. My profound condolences & sympathies are with the bereaved families. May Allah rest the departed souls in peace!
— Shehbaz Sharif (@CMShehbaz) January 8, 2022
An estimated 1.25 lakh vehicles had entered Murree, causing major traffic jams, reported Geo News.
According to a Dawn report Saturday, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said tourists had flocked to the hill station in such large numbers “for the first time in 15 to 20 years which created a big crisis”.
He also said the authorities were hoping to evacuate 1,000 vehicles by Saturday evening, while the roads to Murree would remain closed till 9 pm Sunday.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department had predicted heavy snowfall in Murree and Galiyat from 6-9 January. Apart from snow, areas in and around Murree are forecast to face rain, blizzards and thunderstorms Saturday night, according to the local administration.
SHO Raja Rasheed told Geo News that the town has seen 4 to 4.5 feet of snowfall. “There has never been this much snowfall in this area,” he was quoted as saying.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)