By Ononye VC
At least 22 people, including 10 children, died in a popular mountain resort town in Pakistan after being stuck in their vehicles overnight during a heavy snowstorm as temperatures plummeted, officials said Saturday.
Most of the victims died of hypothermia, officials said. Among them was an Islamabad police officer and seven other members of his family, fellow police officer Atiq Ahmed said.
More than 4 feet (1 metre) of snow fell in the area of the Murree Hills resort overnight Friday and early Saturday, trapping thousands of cars on roadways, said Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed.
The snow was so severe that heavy equipment brought in to clear it initially got stuck during the night, said Umar Maqbool, assistant commissioner for the town of Murree. Temperatures fell to minus 8 degrees Celsius (17.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
Officials called in paramilitary troops and a special military mountain unit to help. By late Saturday, thousands of vehicles had been pulled from the snow but more than a thousand were still stuck, Ahmed said.
Most roads leading to the area’s resorts were largely cleared of snow by late Saturday, and military troops were working to clear the rest, Maqbool said.
The military also converted army-run schools into relief camps where they provided shelter and food for the tourists who had been rescued.
Emergency officials distributed food and blankets to people while they were trapped in their snowed-in vehicles, but many died of hypothermia.
Others may have died from carbon monoxide poisoning after running their car heaters for long periods of time, said rescue services physician Abdur Rehman. As of late Saturday, the death toll included 10 men, 10 children and two women, Rehman said.
In one instance, a husband and wife and their two children all died in their car. In another, four young friends died together, he said.
Located 28 miles (46 kilometres) north of the capital of Islamabad, Murree is a popular winter resort town that attracts well over a million tourists annually. Streets leading into the town are often blocked by snow in winter.