Islamabad, Jan 9 (EFE).- Pakistani authorities on Sunday raised the total number of people who died after becoming trapped in their vehicles during a traffic jam and heavy snowfall on a road leading to a popular mountain resort to 22.
“All the 22 dead bodies have been handed over to their families and the dead include 10 men, 10 children and 2 women,” a police officer told Efe, on condition of anonymity.
The latest official data indicates that at least eight people froze to death while the rest died due to suffocation after inhaling exhaust fumes from their snow-covered vehicles, according to initial reports.
Authorities also provided updates on the progress of the rescue operations following the evacuation of thousands of others who had remained stranded in their vehicles and the reopening of traffic.
“All main communication arteries have been cleared for all types of move,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the Pakistani army, said in a statement.
The tragedy occurred between Friday night and Saturday, when tens of thousands of people traveled to the town of Murree, a mountainous area in Punjab province, to enjoy the snow.
However, the surge of tourist vehicles caused a traffic jam leaving thousands stranded in the snow.
“Shocked and upset at tragic deaths of tourists on road to Murree. Unprecedented snowfall and rush of people proceeding without checking weather conditions caught district admin unprepared,” Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Twitter.
“Have ordered inquiry & putting in place strong regulation to ensure prevention of such tragedies,” he added.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said on Saturday that around 100,000 vehicles tried to enter the hill station on Friday – the largest number of visitors in decades.
Videos recorded by tourists posted on social media show people abandoning their vehicles and walking in search of shelter.
Its easy access and proximity to Islamabad makes Murree a popular weekend getaway, especially in winter when the mountains are covered in a blanket of snow.
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.
Heavy snowfall has also caused road closures in parts of the country including the Balochistan, Gilgit Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Disaster Management Authority Sunday reported that 12 people died and 29 others injured rain and snowfall-related incidents in the northwestern province since January 3. EFE