Temperatures fell to minus 8 degrees Celsius amid heavy snowfall at Pakistan's mountain resort town of Murree overnight, killing at least 22 people who were stuck in their vehicles, officials said Saturday.
Atiq Ahmed, an Islamabad police officer, said eight of the 22 fatalities were from the family of fellow police officer Naveed Iqbal, who also died. Most of the victims died of hypothermia, officials said.
Rescue services physician Abdur Rehman said that after evacuating all of the stranded tourists from their cars, the death toll stood at 22, including 10 men, 10 children and two women.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said thousands of vehicles had been pulled from the snow but more than a thousand were still stuck in the area Saturday.
Located 45.5 kilometres north of the capital of Islamabad, Murree is a popular winter resort that attracts well over a million tourists annually. Streets leading into the city are often blocked by snow in winter.
Ahmed, the interior minister, said more than 1.2 metres of snow fell in the area overnight and all incoming traffic was blocked Saturday. The minister said paramilitary troops and a special military mountain unit had been called in to help.
“Until then no vehicle or even people on foot are allowed to enter Murree except for the emergency and rescue vehicles and those bringing food for the stuck people,” he said.
Umar Maqbool, a local administrator, said the heavy snowfall hampered rescue efforts during the night and even heavy equipment brought in to clear the snow got stuck initially.
Officials gave no further details about those who died in their snowed-in vehicles but said they were working on both recovery and rescue operations. Maqbool said food and blankets were distributed to the stuck tourists during the night.
Most streets leading to the area's resorts were largely cleared of snow later Saturday but some work was still being done, Maqbool said. Military troops and machines were working to clear all the streets and the military established relief camps at army run schools that provided shelter and food.