At least 16 tourists died in sub-zero temperatures after being stranded in their vehicles in northern Pakistan, where thousands had come to enjoy the snow, officials said Saturday.
Since around 1,000 vehicles are still stranded, the government has declared Murree, 60 kilometers northeast of the capital Islamabad, a disaster area.
For the first time in 15 to 20 years, so many tourists flocked to Murree, creating a major crisis, Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said in a video message.
The minister said that around 1,000 cars were stuck in the hill station, a city elevated from the nearby area, and confirmed that “there have been 16 to 19 deaths in their cars”.
Army platoons and paramilitary forces have been used to assist the civil administration in rescue operations, he said.
Late on Friday, the government announced the closure of all roads leading to the train station to halt further influx of tourists.
Prime Minister Imran Khan was shocked by the “tragic death” of the tourists. “Have ordered an investigation and put strict regulations in place to prevent such tragedy,” Khan said in a tweet.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry appealed to people not to visit the mountain station.
The snowfall, which began on Tuesday night, continued at regular intervals and attracted thousands of tourists. Due to the large number of visitors, many families were stranded on the streets.
Local media reported that over 100,000 vehicles entered the mountain station.
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Videos shared on social media showed entire families, including children, lying dead in their snow-covered vehicles.
“Were the deaths caused by the common cold or carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning?” Said Dr. Faheem Yonus, director of the infectious diseases division at the University of Maryland UCH, in a tweet. “CO is odorless, deadly when an idling car is buried in the snow, the blocked exhaust pipe (muffler) can quickly kill passengers inhaling CO.”
The officials did not provide any information about the causes of death.