The roads of Pak hill station cleared after the tragedy
Yesterday, army rescuers cleared roads around a Pakistani town on a hill home to thousands of tourists after 22 people died in vehicles trapped by heavy snowfall.
The resort town of Murree, about 70 km northeast of Islamabad, was inundated with tourists and day-trippers last week after unusually heavy snow turned it into a winter wonderland.
But a blizzard from Friday knocked down trees and blocked narrow roads leading in and out of the city, which clings to steep hills and valleys at an elevation of 2,300m.
“It was not snow, and not even heavy snow, it was unprecedented (…) with four to five feet in a few hours,” Tariq Ullah, an administrative official told AFP. from the nearby town of Nathia Gali.
“(I) have never seen such a big snowstorm in my life. There were strong winds, uprooted trees, avalanches. People around were terrified, each with their own account of the suffering. “
Authorities said nearly 100,000 visitors in thousands of vehicles swarmed the city on Friday, causing massive traffic jams even before the blizzard. They said 22 people died in vehicles stuck in the snow overnight Friday – either from the cold or from carbon monoxide poisoning from the exhaust gases generated by drivers running engines for themselves. warm up.
They included 10 children – six who died alongside their mother and father, a senior police officer.
“We turn on the heating and go to sleep,” the Dawn newspaper said, quoting Deputy Inspector Naveed Iqbal in a final appeal to her son in the capital.
He was buried on Saturday night alongside his family in a ceremony attended by hundreds of fellow officers.
Yesterday a constant stream of vehicles and people on foot were coming out of the badly affected Kuldana near Murree.
Many vehicles were stuck on the side of the road, hoods open, waiting for a restart after draining their batteries to run the radiators during their ordeal.
Piles of rubbish marked places where cars had spent the cold night.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was shocked and upset by the tragedy, but the unprecedented snowfall and influx of people “caught the district administrator off guard”.
Several Pakistani newspapers, however, lambasted administrators yesterday, noting that the country’s meteorological office warned as early as Jan. 6 of the approaching blizzard.
“All concerned authorities are particularly advised to remain ‘ALERT’ during the forecast period,” the National Weather Forecast Center said on Thursday, adding that “heavy snowfall” could lead to road closures in Murree and somewhere else.
Authorities have promised an investigation.
“Our first priority was the rescue, which is underway, then the rescue,” Hasaan Khawar, spokesman for the Punjab provincial government, said yesterday in a video on his Twitter page.
“Then a high-level investigation will be launched and if there is any negligence, action will be taken against everyone involved. “
The Pakistani military’s public relations department said it removed all survivors from car bombs along the road to Murree and took them to shelters set up in the town.
More than 1,000 abandoned vehicles along the road were hampering bulldozers’ efforts to clear snow from the roads, he said, and in some areas troops were using shovels.
Ahead of the weekend, Pakistani social media was teeming with photos and videos of people playing in the snow around Murree, a quaint seaside resort built by the British in the 19th century as a sanatorium for its colonial troops.
Authorities warned as early as last weekend that too many vehicles were attempting to enter the city, but even that failed to deter the hordes of day-trippers from the capital.
Many Pakistanis yesterday complained on social media that hoteliers and guesthouse owners in Murree had compounded the problem by raising prices, causing stranded people to stay overnight in their cars rather than paying for a room .
“Things would have been different if the local people and the hotels had cooperated, but the reputation and conduct of the local people of Murree is very bad in this regard,” a senior government official told AFP under the guise of ‘anonymity.
However, there have also been reports of locals opening their homes to stranded tourists and offering food and blankets to those caught in the open.
Tourists question response to ongoing disaster
As unprecedented snowfall thawed yesterday at a popular hill station in Pakistan, rescued tourists were found reckoning with the deaths of 22 fellow travelers in a frozen traffic jam.
“We have not received any alerts from society, government, Google, news, weather,” said Duaa Kashif Ali, 18, a tourist from Islamabad.
“The locals helped us,” she told AFP, after leaving a guesthouse where she waited for the worst snowstorm Murree has seen in decades.
The hilltop town – 70 km northeast of Islamabad – has long been a favorite spot for tourists, who have swarmed to see views dusted with fresh snow this week.
The roads were congested with traffic from some 100,000 visitors when a blizzard dumped four feet (1.2 meters) of snow from Friday.
Stuck in their car overnight, 22 people died from the cold or from carbon monoxide poisoning from exhaust gases. Among them were 10 children.
“People here were literally crying… when they heard,” recalls Kashif Ishaq, a 47-year-old tourist. As he spoke, a convoy of towering heavy machinery cleared the icy roads behind him, ending two days of snowy isolation for the satellite village of Ratti Gali.
Ishaq arrived here with his daughter Duaa Kashif Ali on Friday evening.
Along with 13 other family and friends, they ditched three broken down cars and drove 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) to where a guesthouse owner took them.
“The locals really helped us,” Ishaq said.
“They offered their services, they offered their homes, they offered their restaurants and hotels for free. “
In the nearby town of Kuldana, around 5,000 people were taken to the army’s logistics school on Friday evening.
“It was like a natural disaster,” said Major Mohamed Umar. “There was no electricity, no gas, no telephone, nothing worked.
Arosh Yasir, 11, warmed by a gas fire with her family, said they spent the night in their car on Friday before being rescued the next morning.
“Our food was cold and there was no way to go back or forward,” she told AFP.
“I started to cry and pray.”
Many Pakistanis have complained on social media that hoteliers have raised prices to capitalize on stranded guests, causing them to sleep in cars.
Arosh said on Saturday that the hotels were “very expensive or had no space,” forcing them into the military camp. Yesterday afternoon, much of the rescue effort had turned into a repair and rescue operation, aided by a constant sun clearing out snow drifts. Workers scaled mountainside pylons to knock down icy electrical wires, while others gathered around open car hoods to try and revive the engines.
Some vehicles still remained abandoned under immense snow banks, forcing the plows to slalom the precarious mountainous tracks.
Among the clear stains in the ice were small scatters of empty water bottles and snack wrappers, marking the spot where many tourists spent Friday nights in their cars.
“It was my worst experience,” said Aafia Ali, 21, a visitor from Karachi among the refugee group in Ratti Gali.
Several Pakistani newspapers yesterday published scathing articles, attacking authorities for failing to close the area despite numerous warnings of heavy snowfall.
This feeling was shared by those who were preparing to leave the mountain.
“The management of this area, they are responsible for that,” said Aafia Ali.