Prime Minister Imran Khan has always insisted that his government was taking steps for the promotion of tourism. In this regard, the premier himself worked on the issue, but many questions have arisen after the tragedy in Murree.
At least 22 tourists stranded in their vehicles succumbed to the extreme weather during a snowstorm in Murree on Friday night, rescue and government officials confirmed on Saturday.
Television footage showed that thousands of cars loaded with tourists were still stuck on the routes leading to the hill station on Saturday evening, hours after Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar issued instructions to expedite rescue work and provide aid to the stranded tourists.
What actually happened in Murree?
Snowfall, which began on Tuesday night, continued with regular intervals, attracting thousands of tourists. However, due to the rush of visitors, many families ended up getting stranded on roads. It has been reported that over 100,000 vehicles entered the hill station.
Murree was declared calamity hit on Saturday after at least 22 people froze to death. Divisional Emergency Officer Rescue 1122 Dr Rehman, who is heading the rescue operation, said that 22 bodies have been recovered thus far including 10 males, two females, four boys and six girls.
“Were the deaths caused by cold or carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning?” Dr Faheem Yonus, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Maryland UCH, said in a tweet. “CO is odorless, lethal if an idling car is buried in snow, the blocked exhaust (silencer) can quickly kill the passengers as they breathe CO.”
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said Rawalpindi and Islamabad administrations, along with police, had been working to rescue those stranded, while five platoons of the Pakistan Army, as well as Rangers and Frontier Corps, were called on an emergency basis.
Opposition lambasts government
Meanwhile, opposition political leaders criticised the government for its handling of the influx of tourists and inadequate preparation.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif said he was heartbroken over the tragedy in Murree and questioned who was responsible for the deaths.
“Where was the government all the while? What arrangements did it make to deal with such an influx? Incompetence is fast turning into criminality. Prior arrangements & round the clock supervision were the normal SOPs in the past,” he tweeted.
Terming the deaths heartbreaking, PPP Vice President Sherry Rehman said governments “needed to be more vigilant about the flood of tourists on the Galiyat routes”.
“Instead of seeking more tourists govt should have given a warning for jammed roads. These were tragic & avoidable losses which no one intended, but no one acted in time either. Lessons need to be learnt,” she added.
Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) had issued the first alert for heavy snowfall on December 31, 2021. The Met office later issued the second alert on January 5.
The meteorological department’s advisory body had instructed all concerned agencies to be cautious, warning of heavy snowfall and road closures in Murree from the beginning of January. Despite several warnings, the tourists were not preventing from heading towards Murree.
The Murree tragedy comes at a time when Prime Minister Imran Khan was taking measures to provide facilities to tourists and improve tourist destinations. The authorities should investigate the Murree tragedy because it cost precious lives.
Action should be taken against the relevant department and safe return of tourists in Murree at that time should be ensured.