Dozens Died After 125,000 Cars Stuck in Traffic in a Blizzard

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Pakistan
In this photo provided by Public Relations Between Services, people walk past vehicles stuck in an area hit by heavy snow in Murree, about 45 kilometers north of the capital Islamabad, Pakistan, Saturday, January 8, 2022. (ISPR via AP )

MURREE, WORDL LINES – At least 22 people died after a heavy snowstorm left about 125,000 cars stuck on a traffic jam leading to a resort town in Pakistan’s mountains.

Eight of the dead were from the family of Islamabad police officer Naveed Iqbal, who died with his wife and six children.

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Police said most people froze to death in their cars. But others are thought to have died from asphyxiation after turning on their vehicle heaters to keep warm after being stuck on the road.

More than four feet of snow fell on the hillside town on Friday evening, January 7, 2022, trapping tourists and blocking all traffic from entering Murree, about 70km northeast of the capital Islamabad, the following day.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said the military had been deployed to clear roads and rescue thousands of people still trapped. The office of the chief minister of Punjab province said the area had been declared a “disaster area” and urged people to stay away.

Soldiers, including a special military mountain unit, were called in to assist with rescue efforts. Thousands of vehicles had already begun to be released by the morning of Saturday 8 January 2022, although thousands more were still trapped in the area.

Murree is a popular resort town in winter. It attracts more than a million tourists every year although roads leading to the city are often blocked by snow in winter.

Umar Maqbool, a local administrator, said heavy snowfall hampered rescue efforts at night. Even the heavy equipment brought in to clear the snow initially jammed.

“Until (the military arrived) no vehicles or even people on foot will be allowed to enter Murree, except for emergency and rescue vehicles, and for those looking for food for the trapped people,” interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told the Daily Mail. .

Videos shared on social media showed cars crammed together, with nearly a meter high of snow on the roofs. “People are facing a dire situation,” Usman Abbasi, a tourist stuck in the city where heavy snow is still falling, told AFP by telephone.

For days, Pakistani social media was full of pictures and videos of people playing in the snow around Murree, a picturesque resort town built by the British in the 19th century as a sanatorium for its colonial troops.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was shocked and upset at this tragedy. “Unprecedented snowfall and rush of visitors traveling without checking weather conditions left district admins unprepared,” he tweeted.

He said he had ordered an investigation and put in place strong regulations to ensure the prevention of such tragedies from recurring. Authorities warned over the weekend that too many vehicles were trying to enter the tourist town of Murree.

But that failed to deter hordes of daily travelers from the capital. “Not only tourists, but local residents are also facing serious problems,” tourist Abbasi told AFP.

“The gas cylinders have run out and drinking water is not available in most areas – it may be frozen or the water pipes have been damaged by the severe cold.” He said the city’s hotels were running out of food, and cell phone service was uneven.

This city of about 30,000 people sits on the side of steep hills and valleys, and is traversed by narrow streets that are often jammed even in good weather.

Sheikh Rashid said residents had protected people trapped in the city. They provide blankets and food for people they can reach.

Authorities say schools and government buildings have accommodated those who can reach the city from blocked roads.

Helicopters are also alerted when the weather is clear. Among the dead were 10 men, 10 children and two women.

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