21 dead as heavy snow traps drivers in Pakistan

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Intl desk, Jan 08: At least 21 people have died after heavy snow trapped them in their vehicles in northern Pakistan.

The military is attempting to clear roads and rescue those still trapped near the hilltop town of Murree.

Around 1,000 vehicles were trapped on a highway during a blizzard, according to Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid.

Murree is a mountain resort town north of the capital Islamabad. Local media reported on Friday that tourists were getting stranded due to snow.

More than 100,000 cars had entered Murree in recent days to see the unusually heavy snowfall. This caused a huge traffic jam on roads leading in and out of the town, police said.

Police said at least six people had frozen to death in their cars, but it is not yet clear how others had died. Asphyxiation after inhaling fumes has been given as a possible reason.

The area has now been declared a disaster area and people have been urged to stay away.

“People are facing a terrible situation,” Usman Abbasi, a tourist stuck in the town where heavy snow was still falling, told the AFP news agency by phone.

“It’s not only the tourists, but the local population is also facing severe problems” including gas and water shortages, he added.

“For the first time in 15 to 20 years such large number of tourists flocked to Murree, which created a big crisis,” Mr Rashid said in a video message.

Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed shock over the “tragic deaths” of the tourists.

“Have ordered inquiry and putting in place strong regulations to ensure prevention of such tragedies,” Khan said in a tweet.

Murree was built by the British in the 19th century as a medical base for its colonial troops.

Source: BBC