Islamabad, Jan 8 (EFE).- Up to 19 tourists were found dead in their vehicles and several others were stranded on roads in and around the mountain resort of Murree, located around 65 kilometers (40 miles) from Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad as heavy snowfall hit the area overnight, government officials said Saturday.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said in a video message that more than 100,000 vehicles carrying tourists entered the hill station on Friday, out of which more than 1,000 were still stranded and expected to be evacuated by Saturday evening.
“Between 16-19 people died in their vehicles last night and the rest are safe and being evacuated,” Rashid said.
He said that rescue operations were underway and weather conditions permitting, helicopters will be sent to the area to evacuate those still stranded there.
The government of Punjab province, where Murree is located, said in a statement that more than 23,000 stranded vehicles were evacuated from the area on Friday night.
“Apart from police, 5 platoons of foot soldiers of the army have been called in” to evacuate the vehicles that are still stuck, Rashid explained.
The minister said that all the roads leading to the famous resort have been closed till Sunday evening and the police were stopping tourists from going to the area by foot.
Only emergency vehicles and those carrying blankets and food for the stranded tourists have been allowed to enter the area.
Videos circulated on social media show people getting out of their vehicles and walking in search of shelter.
According to local media reports, seven family members are also among the victims.
Its easy access and proximity to Islamabad makes Murree a popular tourist destination.
Rashid said that locals have been providing blankets and food to the stranded tourists.
The military’s media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations, said in a statement that troops are helping the civilian administration in rescuing the tourists.
Army engineers have reached the area and snow removal machines are clearing the roads, it added.
The meteorological department said that a total of 34 inches of snowfall (864 mm) was recorded between Jan. 3 and Friday night in Murree while more snow is expected on Saturday.
The temperature overnight in Murree was minus 1 degree Celsius.
“There was heavy snowfall because of intense weather conditions and last night was the peak but it will continue till tomorrow,” Muhammed Riaz, head of the Met department, told EFE.
Eleven flights to and from Lahore were cancelled during the last 24 hours while another nine flights were diverted to other cities after being denied permission to land at the Lahore airport, according to local media reports.
“Yesterday, three flights of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) bound to Lahore were diverted to Islamabad and three flights to and from Lahore were cancelled,” a spokesperson of the airlines, Abdullah Hafeez, told EFE.
A westerly weather system of strong winds has caused an intermittent rain spell across almost the entire country during the last four days, which has led to the suspension and diversion of flights.