At least 22 people have died in Pakistan in historic snowstorm

Pakistani rescuers were working on Sunday to clear the access roads to the mountain town where thousands of tourists were stranded and where 22 people died in their vehicles stuck in the snow.

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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 cut down trees and blocked the narrow roads leading to the hillside town 2,400 meters above sea level.

“Unprecedented” “It was not snow (…), it was unprecedented”, commented for AFP an official of the neighboring town of Nathia Gali, according to whom from one to 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.

Cold death or carbon monoxide poisoning

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.

Daily Dawn published a transcript of the last call from that policeman, 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 Saturday evening, in wooden coffins, to Islamabad where about 300 relatives and neighbors in tears received them, according to an AFP photographer.

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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 on Thursday, predicting” heavy snowfall “that could lead to road closures around Murree.

Another 1000 abandoned cars, blocking the emergency services

Authorities have promised an investigation, adding that “if there is any form of negligence, action will be taken.” “Our priority was the rescue, which is underway, then aid,” said Hassan Khawar, spokesman for the government of Punjab province, on Twitter on Sunday.

The Pakistani military said it had pulled all the survivors out of the stuck cars, adding that 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 the 19th century by the British as a sanatorium for their colonial troops.

Overpriced hotels encouraged visitors to sleep in their cars

Already last weekend, city officials 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 the conduct of the inhabitants are very bad in this regard,” a senior government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

According to various accounts, however, residents opened their homes and offered food and blankets to stranded tourists.

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