Pakistan’s popular hill station Muri was declared a disaster-hit area on Saturday when at least 21 people, including nine children, were trapped in the picturesque city of Punjab province due to unprecedented snowfall and tourist rush.
All roads were blocked at Murree in Rawalpindi district after thousands of vehicles entered the city, leaving tourists helpless on the roads.
According to the Dawn newspaper report, around 1,000 cars are stuck at the hill station, while Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar has issued instructions to expedite the rescue work and provide assistance to the stranded tourists.
The Punjab government has imposed a state of emergency in hospitals, police stations and administrative offices.
According to the list released by Rescue 1122, at least 21 people, including nine children, died.
“Unprecedented snowfall and rush of PPL proceedings without weather check did not prepare the district administration. Orders for investigation and strict regulation to ensure prevention of such tragedies,” Khan said in a tweet.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said in a video message that the army had been deployed to clear the roads and rescue those trapped. He said that Muri “sees a large number of tourists after 15-20 years” and caused a crisis.
Rashid said the government was forced to close the road from Islamabad to Murree. He said that the commissioners of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, deputy commissioners of police are carrying out the rescue operation.
“Over 1,000 vehicles are stranded since night, some have been pulled out; There were 16-19 deaths in cars. Locals provided food and blankets to the stranded people,” Rashid said.
He said officials would clear 1,000 vehicles by Saturday evening, while the roads to Murree would remain closed till 9 pm on Sunday.
“We have also decided to ban tourists who are planning to visit Muri. This is not the time to come dead,” the minister was quoted as saying by Geo News.
The Punjab government has declared Mari as a disaster-hit area following heavy snowfall in the city. Taking cognizance of the chaos and emergency, Punjab Chief Minister Buzdar has directed to open government offices and rest houses for the stranded tourists.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department had predicted heavy snowfall in Muri and Galiyat from January 6 to 9.
Thousands of tourists, including women and children, have been stranded on the roads since last night in the area. The traffic police officials, however, were making their efforts to restore the flow of traffic on the roads.
Rawalpindi Deputy Commissioner said on Twitter, “Around 23,000 vehicles have been safely evacuated from Muri. Around 1,000 are still stranded. ,
Opposition political leaders criticized the government for its handling of the tourist influx and inadequate preparation.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif said he was saddened by the tragedy in Murri and questioned who was responsible for the deaths.
“Where was the government all the time? What arrangement did he make to deal with such influx? Disability is rapidly turning into a crime. Prior arrangements and round-the-clock supervision were normal SOPs in the past,” he tweeted.
Terming the deaths as heartbreaking, PPP vice-president Sherry Rahman said governments “need to be more vigilant about the influx of tourists on Galilee routes”.
“Instead of looking for more tourists, the government should have warned for jammed roads. These were tragic and avoidable losses that were not intended, but no one acted on in a timely manner. Lessons need to be learned,” she said.