ISLAMABAD – At least 22 people, including 10 children, died in a popular mountain resort in Pakistan after being stranded in their vehicles overnight during a heavy snow storm as temperatures plummeted, officials said Saturday.
Most of the victims died of hypothermia, officials said. Among them were an Islamabad police officer and seven other family members, his police colleague Atiq Ahmed said.
On Friday night and early Saturday, more than four feet of snow fell in the Murree Hills Resort area, keeping thousands of cars trapped on the streets, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said. The snow was so thick that heavy equipment that was being cleared initially got stuck during the night, said Umar Maqbool, deputy commissioner of the city of Murree. Temperatures dropped to 17.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Officials called in paramilitary forces and a special mountain military unit. By late Saturday, thousands of vehicles had been pulled out of the snow, but more than a thousand were still stuck, Ahmed said.
Most of the roads leading to the area’s resorts were largely cleared of snow by the end of Saturday, and military forces were working to clear the rest, Maqbool said. The military also converted army-run schools into relief camps, where they provided shelter and food for rescued tourists.
Rescue workers distributed food and blankets to people while they were trapped in their snow-covered vehicles, but many died of hypothermia. Others may have died of carbon monoxide poisoning after running their car heaters for long periods, said ambulance doctor Abdur Rehman. The death toll as of late Saturday included 10 men, 10 children and two women, Rehman said.
In one case, a couple and their two children died in their car. In another, four young friends died together, he said.
Murree is located 45 km north of the capital Islamabad and is a popular winter sports destination that attracts well over a million tourists annually. Roads into the city are often blocked by snow in winter.