The dead include eight members of the same family after their vehicles were submerged in snow, officials said.
At least 16 people froze to death after heavy snow trapped them in their vehicles while tens of thousands of visitors flocked to Pakistan’s hill town of Murree.
The army has been mobilized to clear roads and rescue people still trapped, Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said in a video message on Saturday, adding: “At least 16 to 19 people have died in their vehicles. . “
Ataliq Ahmed, an Islamabad police officer, said eight of the 16 dead were from the family of Islamabad’s fellow police officer, Naveed Iqbal, who also died. All 16 died of hypothermia.
Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed shock at the “tragic deaths” of tourists. “Instructed to investigate and put in place strong regulations to ensure the prevention of such tragedies,” Khan said in a tweet.
Located about 50 km (22 miles) north of the capital, Islamabad, Murree is a popular winter resort that attracts more than one million tourists annually. Streets leading to the city are often blocked by snow in winter.
Videos shared on social media showed whole families, including children, lying dead in their snow-covered vehicles.
Heavy snow warnings
Snowfall, which began Tuesday night, continued at regular intervals and attracted thousands of tourists. Due to the large numbers of visitors, many families ended up stranded on roads.
“This is an example of systemic failure, because according to reports, about 100,000 vehicles drove to the hill station, one that has narrow roads,” Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder reported from Islamabad.
“There were warnings of heavy snow and it led to a total disaster because people got stuck in their vehicles, whole families. Their vehicles were buried under piles of snow. “
Ahmed, the interior minister, said more than 1.2 meters (4 feet) of snow fell in the area overnight and all incoming traffic was blocked on Saturday. The minister said paramilitary forces and a special military mountain unit had been called in to help.
“Until then, no vehicle or even people are allowed on foot to enter Murree, except for the emergency and rescue vehicles and those who bring food for the trapped people,” he said.
Umar Maqbool, a local administrator, said the heavy snowfall hampered rescue efforts during the night and even heavy equipment brought in to clear the snow initially got stuck.
Officials did not give further details about those who died in their vehicles, but said they were working on recovery and rescue operations. Food and blankets were handed out to the stranded tourists.
The chief minister of Punjab province’s office said Murree had been declared a “disaster area” and urged people to stay away.