This handout photograph released by Pakistan's Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) on Jan 8, 2022 shows army soldiers take part in a rescue operation to clear a road covered with snow in Murree, around 70 kilometres (45 miles) northeast of the capital, Islamabad after an incident where at least 21 people died in an enormous traffic jam caused by tens of thousands of visitors thronging to a Pakistani hill town to see unusually heavy snowfall. (INTER SERVICES PUBLIC RELATIONS / AFP)
ISLAMABAD – Ammar Alvi took a sigh of relief when he finally arrived home in Islamabad after being stranded in snow for more than 12 hours with his wife and kids. Not far from him, 22 tourists lost their lives in snow.
Like every year, Alvi visited the hilly resort Murree located some 60 km away from the Pakistani capital, not knowing that this trip would turn out to be a nightmare for the whole family.
Sources from Murree police told Xinhua that the tragedy happened largely due to overcrowdedness in the small city, which has a capacity to park only 4,000 to 5,000 vehicles, while over 100,000 vehicles entered the city since the snowfall began
Heavy snowfalls blocked roads and left them stranded with thousands of others in vehicles.
"It was so scary, we are still in shock and won't even imagine going to Murree in the coming few years at least. I don't want to recall what happened," Alvi told Xinhua when he was refueling his car on the outskirts of Islamabad on his way back home.
"Voices of my children crying out of cold and fear are still in my head … The positive thing is that I was lucky to make out of the nightmare alive," he said.
He said rescue teams from the country's Rescue 1122 agency and military cleared the snow on the road and made way for them to return.
According to Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, thousands of vehicles were stranded in the snow in Murree on Friday night, following which the entry of visitors was banned locally.
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He appealed to the local residents in Murree to provide food and blankets to the people stranded in the snow for hours.
In a conversation with Xinhua, Muhammad Faheem Qureshi, an emergency medical technician with Rescue 1122 in Murree, said 22 people died after being trapped in the snow and their bodies will be handed over to relatives after autopsy.
"All the victims were in the vehicles parked within an area of 2 to 3 km, and the weather was very hostile and windy in that particular place, due to which they had no choice but to completely close car windows for hours, which might have caused suffocation," he added.
Speaking to Xinhua, Abdul Ghaffar Agha, an Islamabad-based medical specialist and herbalist, said the victims might have inhaled carbon monoxide which is odorless and very lethal.
The National Highways and Motorway Police advised tourists, from its official social media accounts, to keep their vehicles' windows slightly open while being stranded in snow, and do not let the silencer be covered by snow to avoid excessive carbon monoxide.
Among the dead was Naveed Iqbal from Chakwal district, alongside his wife and children who were spending their winter vacations. Arif Ali said, "my brother loved snowfall so much, he used to visit Murree every year to witness it … but the snow killed him."
According to Rescue 1122, most of the roads have been cleared for traffic flow and families in stable condition were allowed to go back home while others were shifted to different places in Murree before being sent back later.
The military's media wing Inter-Services Public Relations said in a statement early Sunday morning that over 300 snow-affected people including children have been provided medical care by a team of army doctors and paramedics.
Cooked meals were served to more than 1,000 stranded people. Stranded people have been accommodated and provided with shelter, hot meals and tea at various military-owned settlements.
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Sources from Murree police told Xinhua that the tragedy happened largely due to overcrowdedness in the small city, which has a capacity to park only 4,000 to 5,000 vehicles, while over 100,000 vehicles entered the city since the snowfall began.
Limited hotel capacity has also exacerbated the traffic jam as people had to stay in their vehicles.
Sources said the police had discouraged the public to enter the resort, but thousands kept pouring in.
"The tragedy is very big and shocking. We have shifted all the tourists to safe places, but over 500 vehicles are still stranded in the snow," Qureshi said.
For the local daily life to return normalcy in Murree, he said the rescue workers were trying their best to conclude their mission by Sunday.
People work to clear a road after a heavy snowfall in Murree, around 70 kilometres (45 miles) northeast of the capital, Islamabad on Jan 8, 2022. (PHOTO /