23 tourists stranded in cars freeze to death in Murree; minister Fawad Chaudhry’s insensitivity shocks

Stranded tourists wait for transport after workers cleared roads that were blocked by a heavy snowstorm, in Murree some 46 kilometers north of the Pakistani capital Islamabad&nbsp | &nbspPhoto Credit:&nbspAP

Key Highlights

  • Murree, the picturesque town, is located at the foothills of the Himalayas in Rawalpindi
  • PPP vice president Sherry Rehman termed the deaths as heartbreaking and said governments “needed to be more vigilant about the flood of tourists on the Galiyat routes”
  • “The job of governments is not only to count tourists but also to make advance arrangements and security measures for them […] These deaths are not due to snowfall but due to government negligence,” tweeted PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz

Islamabad: In a mishap in Pakistan’s north Murree region, 23 people, including 10 children, froze to death in vehicles stuck because of heavy snowfall.

Among those who died were an officer of the Islamabad police force and seven members of his family, a couple from the garrison city of Rawalpindi with their four children, and four friends from Mardan. Their funerals were held in their hometowns on Sunday.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government was heavily criticised for not being prepared for the situation and for acting too late, which resulted in the heavy loss of lives. A number of opposition politicians, including Bilawal Zardari and Mariyam Nawaz, slammed the government’s performance.

As the entire country is still coping with the tragedy, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry’s “snow spray” comment has left people shocked.

Murree tragedy

The Murree Hills resort in the town of Murree, about 60 kilometres from Islamabad, received more than 4 feet (1 meter) of snow on Friday night and early Saturday. Hundreds of vehicles were buried or stuck in the snow.

Due to temperatures plummeting to minus 8 degrees Celsius (17.6 Fahrenheit), most of the victims died of hypothermia. As per a rescue physician, some of them died due to carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of having run their car heaters while the mufflers were clogged with snow.

As vehicles continue to become trapped in several feet of snow, rescue officials have reported that at least 23 people have died. Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed confirmed the death toll in a statement on Saturday night.

According to the minister, the situation is only described as a “natural calamity” since the area had experienced “extreme snowfall”.

After the cars were halted from moving on to Murree, people began walking there, and they too were stopped, he said. Suffocation was the cause of the deaths, according to the minister.

Taking an aerial view to have first-hand knowledge of the situation, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar announced on Sunday that rescue efforts would continue until the last person is rescued. “Every Pakistani is saddened by the tragic incident that took place in Murree. All sympathies of the Punjab government are with the families of the deceased,” Buzdar said.

A formal inquiry was ordered to determine the cause of the tragedy, and Rs 800,000 was announced as compensation for the victims.

Approximately 142,000 cars had entered Murree by Saturday, but all travellers were unable to reach the main city or their hotels, said officials, adding that the two roads leading to Murree from Islamabad were blocked by an unprecedented snowstorm.

Shahbaz Gill, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister for Political Communication, tweeted on Sunday that all major arteries to Murree had been opened up for traffic. “Around 600 to 700 cars were evacuated from the area last night,” he said. 

“Police officials are present on the roads leading to Murree from Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The roads will remain closed for today,” he added.

Fawad Chaudhry

In a shameful statement, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said that those who want to enjoy snow, should buy a snow spray and sprinkle it on each other at home. The minister is now being brutally trolled on the social media for his statement.

He had earlier said that unprecedented snowfall plus record numbers of tourists made it next to impossible for the local administration to manage the situation. Clearly, such a large influx of people could not be handled easily, he said.

He had also addressed a press conference in the Punjab capital on Saturday and said he did not intend for everyone to come to Murree at once when three days ago he lauded the rise in tourism.

“By lauding an uptick in tourism in Murree, we did not mean for everyone to land there at the same time,” he said.

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