Murree is a renowned small city and picnic spot in Punjab province of Pakistan- some 60 Kilometers away from capital Islamabad- famous for its pleasant weather in summer and famed for its freezing snowfall in winter. The Meteorological Department of Pakistan had forecasted a blizzard in Murree for several days in the first week of January. Due to school winter holidays, a large number of tourists along with their families from all over the country flocked to Murree; with each passing day, the number of tourists in Murree increased.
According to the Murree administration, only 4 thousand vehicles could be parked in the city. On Saturday January 8, 2022 more than 160 thousand (40 times bigger than the available space) cars of tourists entered the city to enjoy the snowfall. The local population also uses the same roads which collectively (local and tourist traffic) created mess and clutter on incoming and outgoing roads to Murree.
Earlier, Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry wrote on twitters that “The entry of more than 100 thousand tourist’s vehicles in Murree is good news. Rents of hotels and residences have gone up many times. This increase in tourism shows the prosperity of the common man and increase in income. This year, 100 big companies have made a huge profit from tourism”.
There was an acute snowstorm between Friday and Saturday night. Situation began to get worse on Friday January 7, 2022 when the heavy snowfall that started at 12 noon and continued till 5 am on Saturday. On the other hand, due to drastic traffic jams, people were not able to reach to Murree and to find a proper shelter to spend night moreover snow removal machines could not clear the road as tourist tried to use wrong side of road to evacuate themselves; in these circumstances people were forced to spend the night in their vehicles in Siberian and dire cold weather. To avoid subzero cold many people turned on the heaters in the vehicles and closed the windows but this caused lack of oxygen and increase of carbon monoxide, which caused the deaths of 23 people. The local administration and the government did not take any steps to stop the people from dying.
The Punjab government has declared Snow Emergency in Murree and declared it as a disaster area, while the rescue operation was carried out with the help of Frontier Constabulary (FC), paramilitary troops Rangers and Pakistan Army.
Initial report of Murree heartbreaking incident has been presented to Chief Minister (CM) Punjab Sardar Usman Buzdar. Report claimed that deaths were caused by carbon monoxide (CO) leakage.
“During the blizzard (which lasted for 16 hours), 48 centimeters of snow was recorded. From 3-7 January more than 160 thousand tourists’ cars and vehicles arrived in Murree. Due to wrong side driving and fallen trees on 16 different spots traffic was jam-packed. So no one was able to go in or come out of Murree. Cars / vehicles were covered by snow from all four sides besides this vehicle’s silencers were also filled with snow. Tourists switched on their heaters, as there was no cross-ventilation so carbon monoxide became the source of death for 23 people. While 21 thousand cars were not allowed to move in and were sent back which were heading towards the Murree” told in the initial report. CM Punjab Sardar Usman Buzdar expressed his concern and anger on lack of traffic load management.
Vice President of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz – main opposition party- Ms. Maryam Nawaz in her tweets blamed the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government for this calamity. While criticizing the current government, she said “it is not enough to count the tourists but it is also the responsibility of the government to make precautionary and security measures for visitor”.
On social media, many users, opposition leaders and social activists were seen asking, when the government was celebrating the entry of ‘one hundred thousand’ vehicles in Murree, why didn’t the government think about where these people will spend the night and how will these vehicles get out in such a snowfall?
Islamabad High Court (IHC) has directed Prime Minister Imran Khan to summon a meeting of the National Disaster Management Commission (NDMC) in a week to identify the culprits behind the killing of tourists at Murree, a resort in Punjab.
Chief Justice Islamabad High Court Justice Athar Minallah in his remarks said, “the entire state was responsible for the killings. National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) had not fulfilled its responsibility in this catastrophic incident”. The Chief Justice said that there is a law for dealing with natural calamities but unfortunately it is not being implemented.
On the other hand, the Punjab government had also set up a five-member committee to probe the deaths in Murree. According to reports, the members of the committee will stay in Murree for a couple of days and will investigate the cause of death of the tourists, the shortcomings and negligence at the administrative level.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, while ordering an inquiry into the killing of tourists in Murree, said that he had issued orders to enforce strict rules to prevent such incidents. In a statement on Twitter, the Prime Minister said, “I am deeply saddened by the heart-rending deaths of tourists on the way to Murree. The district administration was unprepared for the large number of people arriving without taking into account the unusual snowfall and weather conditions”.
The tragic incident of Murree raised many questions on claims made by the government authorities regarding the flourishing tourism industry in the country. Whole nation is grieved by this accident. Natives are demanding that foolproof arrangements should be made to avoid such kind calamities. If solid steps won’t be taken, local and international visitors will not go to these picnic resorts.
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