21 die after being stuck in cars amid heavy snowfall in Pakistan

Army has been called out to assist in rescue operation, interior minister says.

21 die after being stuck in cars amid heavy snowfall in Pakistan

Some 21 tourists have lost their lives over the past two days after their vehicles were trapped due to heavy snowfall in a famous hill station near capital Islamabad, authorities said on Saturday.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told reporters that at least 1,000 vehicles are still stuck as heavy snowfall has blocked several roads in and around Murree, located some 65 kilometers (40 miles) from the capital.

The city administration releases the details of 21 tourists, who died mainly because of cold and lack of oxygen. The deceased include a police officer, his wife and their five children.

Earlier, the interior minister said that 16 to 19 people, including women, lost their lives due to severe cold and unavailability of food and medicines.

Murree has been declared calamity-hit as government has imposed a state of emergency in hospitals, police stations, and administration offices.

Army troops, the minister said, have been called in to assist in rescue operation as all roads leading to Murree have been closed for general public.

"Only vehicles carrying food and blankets are being allowed to move," he added.

Dawood Farooq, a volunteer of Al-Khidmat Foundation, the country's one of the largest charity and relief organizations, told Anadolu Agency that rescue teams are trying hard to rescue the stranded people to the hotels and locals' houses before sunset as there is no chance of scraping the snow off the roads.

"Situation is worse than your imagination. Thousands of vehicles are stranded as all roads on the outskirts (of Murree) are blocked by heavy snow," Farooqi told Anadolu Agency by telephone.

However, he said the government and non-governmental rescue teams have managed to shift a large number of trapped tourists to the nearby hotels and private residences.

Footage aired on local broadcaster Geo News showed dozens of vehicles buried under snow, and several desperate tourists walking on snow-covered roads in search for safety.

Hundreds of thousands of people from across Pakistan travel to Murree and adjoining tourist destinations to enjoy snowfall in winters.

According to police, over 100,000 vehicles have entered Murree over the past one week.

Hüseyin Demir