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9 kids among 21 dead as heavy snow leaves cars stranded in Pakistan tourist hotspot Murree

Rescue efforts are underway at Murree hill station, and Pakistan’s Punjab province declared a state of emergency in the area. An inquiry has been ordered too.

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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.

Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “shocked and upset” by the tragedy, adding that an inquiry has been ordered.

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.

“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. 

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‘Unprecedented snow’ 

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)

Also Read: A white Christmas week for Shillong as it ‘snows’ in Meghalaya capital


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