Nation pulls on melancholic mood over Murree tragedy

Touching scenes as victims’ bodies reach hometowns: Most roads cleared as entry still banned in hill station: Administration gets 35,000 stranded vehicles on move now: Power, water supplies and mobile service still disrupted: Army has pulled all trapped survivors

By: News Desk
Published: 10:53 AM, 9 Jan, 2022
snow storm murree
Caption: Mourners carry the coffin of a snowstorm victim in Islamabad after 22 people died in freezing temperatures when tens of thousands of visitors thronged Murree to see unusually heavy snowfall, sparking a major traffic jam.–AFP
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The entire nation is in a state of melancholy and mournfulness on the tragic death of 23 tourists stranded in their cars owing to heavy snowfall and worst traffic jam, reported 24NewsHD TV channel on Sunday.

When the dead bodies of the tourists reached their hometowns it created a somber scene over there. Every eye was tearful on their tragic demise and the atmosphere was occasionally echoed with wails and groans of those who lost their near and dear ones. 

The 8 dead bodies of Islamabad ASI Naveed’s family were dispatched to Tala Gang. The bodies of Zafar Iqbal and Maroof Ashraf were sent to Lahore. The dead body of Ashfaq was dispatched to Gujranwala. 

Iqbal and Ashraf were residents of Peco Road, Lahore. The news of their death was like a bolt from the blue and the family members rushed to Murree to collect their bodies

The 19-year-old son of Iqbal said that his father was the only breadwinner in the family. 

“When we called him last time, he told us that he could not get a hotel room and was spending night in the car,” the mournful son added. 

The funeral prayers of deceased Zafar Iqbal were offered in Lahore. A large number of people including relatives and nearby residents attended his Nimaz-e-Janaza.

A whole family of Rawalpindi was expired in the Murree tragedy. Muhammad Shahzad, his wife, two sons and two daughters lost their lives. When six bodies reached Pindi, every eye was laden with tears. Their funeral prayers were held at Shehbaz Sharif Park in Islamabad.

Prominent personalities including PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi attended the funeral prayers. 

Two victims of Murree tragedy: Sohail and Muhammad Bilal belonging to Mardan were buried in their hometown.

The funeral prayers of Sohail were offered in a local Janazgah. A large number of people attended his funeral prayers. 

Bilal’s funeral prayers were offered in his ancestral village in Charchor. 

Both Bilal and Sohail were relatives. 

The Pak Army Saturday started shifting all stranded tourists to five army relief camps established at Murree. According to the ISPR, food and shelter would be provided to people affected by heavy snowfall.

Army relief centres have been established at Army School of Technicians Barian, Military College Murree, Jhika Gali, APS Kuldana, Station Supply Depot Sunny Bank.

FWO dozers and army engineers are busy keeping roads open and the Murree Express has been opened and cleared for any fresh snow by NHA/ FWO/ Army Engineers.

However, the administration has banned entry of more tourists to Murree and Galyat.

Sun appears on Murree horizons 

On the other hand, after weathering a fierce snowfall for the last three days, sun has appeared on the Murree horizon today giving tides of an improved condition ahead. 

The administration has removed snow from most of the roads and 35,000 vehicles of tourists stranded on roads are on the move now. 

Whereas, more than 150 tourists have been lodged at different places and camps set up by the Pakistan Army and other institutions.

The search operation by the rescue teams is underway on the road stretching between Kaldana and Barian. This road where most of the tourists’ deaths have occurred is still closed. Here the vehicles of the tourists have beelined the road but the administration is evacuating the stranded holidaymakers. 

The electricity could not be restored in Murree after a passage of three days creating difficulties for the vacationers. Due to non-availability of power, water supply is also disrupted in the area. Besides this, mobile and internet service is also partially shut in the hill station. 

Army clearing roads

Rescuers were working Sunday to clear routes to a locked-in hill town sheltering thousands of tourists after 23 people died in vehicles trapped by heavy snow.

The resort town of Murree was inundated with tourists and daytrippers last week after unusually heavy snow turned it into a winter wonderland.

But a blizzard from Friday onwards felled trees and blocked narrow roads leading in and out of the town, which clings to steep hills and valleys at an altitude of 2,300 metres (7,500 feet).

"It was not snow, and not even heavy snow, it was unprecedented... with four to five feet in few hours," Tariq Ullah, an administrative official in nearby Nathia Gali, told AFP Sunday.

"(I) never saw such a huge snowstorm in my life. There were strong winds, uprooted trees, and avalanches. People around were terrified, each having his or her own account of suffering."

Officials said nearly 100,000 visitors in thousands of vehicles had thronged the town by Friday, causing an enormous traffic jam even before the blizzard.

They said 23 people died in vehicles trapped in the snow overnight Friday -- either from cold, or carbon monoxide poisoning from exhaust fumes generated by drivers running engines to keep warm.

They included 10 children -- six who died alongside their mother and father, a policeman.

"We are switching on the heater and going to sleep," assistant inspector Naveed Iqbal as saying in a final call to his son in the capital.

Early warning 

Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was shocked and upset by the tragedy, but that the unprecedented snowfall and rush of people "caught district admin unprepared".

The weather bureau warned as early as January 6 of the approaching blizzard.

"All concerned authorities are particularly advised to remain 'ALERT' during the forecast period," the National Weather Forecasting Centre said Thursday, adding "heavy snowfall" could cause road closures in Murree and elsewhere.

Authorities have promised an investigation.

"Our first priority was rescue, which is ongoing, then relief," Hasaan Khawar, spokesman for the Punjab government, tweeted Sunday.

"Then a high-level inquiry will be launched and if there is any kind of negligence, then action will be taken against all those involved."

The military's public relations department (ISPR) said they had pulled all survivors from cars trapped along the route to Murree and taken them to shelters set up in the town.

Over 1,000 abandoned vehicles along the route were hampering efforts by bulldozers to clear snow from roads, it said, and in some areas troops were using shovels.

Authorities warned as early as last weekend that too many vehicles were trying to enter the town, but even that failed to discourage hordes of daytrippers from the capital.

Many Pakistanis complained on social media Sunday that Murree hoteliers and guest-house owners had compounded the problem by price gouging, prompting stranded people to spend the night in their cars rather than pay for a room.

"Things would have been different if local people and hotels were cooperative, but the reputation and conduct of the local people of Murree are very bad in this respect," a senior government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

There were also reports, however, of locals throwing open their homes to stranded tourists and offering food and blankets to those caught in the open.

Reporters Haider Ali and Usman Javed, and inputs from AFP