At least 16 stranded snow tourists die at Pakistan hill station
At least 16 tourists have died in freezing temperatures after being stranded in their vehicles in northern Pakistan, where thousands of people had gathered to enjoy the snow, officials said on Saturday.
With some 1,000 vehicles still stranded, the government has declared Murree, 40 miles northeast of the capital Islamabad, a disaster area.
For the first time in 15 to 20 years, such a large number of tourists have flocked to Murree, which has created a big crisis, Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said in a video message.
The minister said around 1,000 cars were stuck in the hill station, an elevated town compared to the nearby area, confirming that “16 to 19 deaths have occurred in their cars”.
Army platoons and paramilitary forces have been deployed to assist the civil administration in the rescue operations, he said.
On Friday evening, the government announced the closure of all roads leading to the station to stop any further influx of tourists.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was shocked by the “tragic death” of the tourists. “Have ordered an investigation and put in place strict regulations to ensure the prevention of such tragedies,” Khan said in a tweet.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry urged people not to visit the hill station.
The snowfall, which began on Tuesday evening, has continued at regular intervals, attracting thousands of tourists. Due to the large number of visitors, many families found themselves stranded on the roads.
Local media reported that more than 100,000 vehicles entered the hill station.
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Videos shared on social media showed entire families, including children, lying dead in their snow-covered vehicles.
“Were the deaths caused by the cold or by carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning?” Dr. Faheem Yonus, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Maryland UCH, said in a tweet. “CO is odorless, deadly if an idling car is buried in snow, blocked (silent) exhaust can quickly kill passengers when they breathe in CO.”
Authorities gave no word on the causes of the deaths.