ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – At least 21 people died on Saturday when their cars got stuck on snow-covered roads leading to a popular tourist town just outside the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
Soldiers rescued people from at least 24,000 vehicles stranded by heavy snow near the hill station town of Murree, officials said. Other snowmobilers and their passengers were given blankets and food.
“Where machines are inaccessible, troops have been moved and they are clearing traffic and paving the way,” the Pakistani army statement read.
Rescue officials said the victims were found dead in their vehicles, some possibly from overnight carbon monoxide poisoning. The dead included a family of four daughters and two sons, all under the age of 15.
The Bureau of Meteorology predicts heavy snowfall in Murree and northern parts of Pakistan no later than January 5, and came as part of a widespread cold spell affecting the region, including the Indian side of the Himalayas.
Officials blamed the disaster on the large number of tourists who did not consider the weather forecast. But critics of the government say the local government is not equipped to handle the annual influx of people and is not prepared enough to deal with emergencies.
Murree, a rustic mountain town 21 miles northeast of Islamabad, is a popular tourist destination attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, and Prime Minister Imran Khan has personally promoted tourism to the area. this area. A few days ago, Fawad Chaudhry, Pakistan’s Information Minister, praised the heavy influx of tourists, saying 100,000 vehicles had entered Murree.
But on Saturday, Mr. Chaudhry made a plea for people to cancel their travel plans because local officials have become unable to cater to such large numbers of people. And when disaster struck, the prime minister appeared to blame tourists for negligence.
“Unprecedented snowfall and rushed ppl process without checking weather conditions left district administrators unprepared,” said Khan. said on Twitter.
Critics say that despite Murree’s proximity to the country’s capital and despite the predictable nature of the dense annual influx of tourists, local authorities are often overwhelmed by the large numbers of visitors. .
“A tragedy like this happens on the station roads,” said Sarah N. Ahmad, an urban policy expert who founded Urban Innovation, a research and advocacy group based in Lahore. The country’s most frequent hills are astonishing. “These deaths are completely avoidable and the government must be held accountable to the people for this oversight.”
Heavy snowfall on the Indian side has blocked roads and disrupted traffic in the Kashmir region as well as in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.
Flights were repeatedly canceled in Srinagar, the capital city of Indian-administered Kashmir, where Tourists are flocking to the snow and skiing.
There were also reports of snow blocking roads between Srinagar and Ladakh, a border area that has been at the center of recent military tensions between India and China. Tens of thousands of Indian and Chinese soldiers remain at high altitudes and freezing temperatures for a second winter following skirmishes between the two countries’ militaries in the summer of 2020.
Mujib Mashal Contribution report from New Delhi, India.