Visitors had flocked to the small town of Murree, 70 kilometers northeast of the capital Islamabad, last week to take advantage of the unusually heavy snowfall.
But on Friday, a storm knocked down trees and blocked the narrow roads leading to the hillside town 2,400 meters above sea level.
It wasn’t snow […], it was unprecedented, commented for the AFP an official from the nearby town of Nathia Gali, according to whom between one and 1.5 m of snow fell in a few hours.
I have never seen such a huge snowstorm in my life. There were strong winds, uprooted trees, avalanches. People were terrified, he added.
According to authorities, nearly 100,000 visitors had thronged into the city on Friday, causing a huge traffic jam even before the storm.
They indicated that 22 people died in their vehicles during the night from Friday to Saturday, due to the cold or poisoned by carbon monoxide breathed in the passenger compartment of their cars.
Ten children, six of whom died alongside their mother and their father, a police officer, are among the victims.
The daily Dawn published a transcript of that policeman’s last call, Naveed Iqbal, to one of his sons in Islamabad:
We turn on the heat and go to sleep.
The bodies of Naveed Iqbal and his family were brought back on Saturday, in wooden coffins, to Islamabad where around 300 crying relatives and neighbors greeted them, according to a photographer from the.AFP.
On Sunday, floods of vehicles and people on foot were trying to get out of Kuldana, a village near Murree also affected by the storm.
Many vehicles were parked on the side of the road, their hoods open, awaiting help to restart their batteries. Piles of garbage marked the places where the departed cars had spent the night.
Local officials criticized
Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was shocked by the tragedy, adding that snowfall and the influx of tourists had
caught the district administration off guard.
Several Pakistani media, however, criticized local officials, noting that the weather services had warned as early as Thursday of the risk of a storm.
It is particularly recommended that the authorities concerned remain “ON ALERT”, the National Weather Forecasting Center said Thursday, forecasting to
heavy snowfall risking road closures around Murree.
Authorities have promised an investigation, adding that
if there is any form of negligence, action will be taken.
Our priority was rescue, which is underway, then help, said Hassan Khawar, spokesman for the government of the province of Punjab, on Twitter on Sunday.
The Pakistani military said it had pulled all the survivors out of the stuck cars, saying more than 1,000 abandoned vehicles were hampering the snow plows’ efforts.
In the days leading up to the disaster, many photos shared on social media showed tourists playing in the snow around Murree, a town founded in 19e century by the British as a sanatorium for their colonial troops.
Last weekend already, city authorities warned that too many vehicles were trying to access the city.
Many Pakistanis further complained on Sunday that hoteliers and guest house owners had compounded the problem by charging abusive prices, prompting some to spend the night in their cars.
Things would have been different if the people and the hotels had been cooperative, but the reputation and conduct of the locals is very bad in this regard., told the AFP a senior government official on condition of anonymity.
According to various accounts, however, residents opened their homes and offered food and blankets to stranded tourists.