Pakistan snowstorm: 21 die in vehicles trapped

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At least 21 people died in an enormous traffic jam caused by tens of thousands of visitors thronging a Pakistani hill town to see unusually heavy snowfall, authorities said Saturday.

Police reported that at least six people had frozen to death in their cars, while it was not immediately clear if others had died from asphyxiation after inhaling fumes in the snowdrift.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said the military had mobilised to clear roads and rescue thousands still trapped near Murree, around 70 kilometres (45 miles) northeast of the capital, Islamabad.

Video shared on social media showed cars packed bumper-to-bumper, with one-metre-high (three-foot) piles of snow on their roofs.

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

For days, Pakistan’s social media has been full of pictures and video of people playing in the snow around Murree, a picturesque resort town built by the British in the 19th century as a sanatorium for its colonial troops.

The Punjab province chief minister’s office said Murree had been declared a “disaster area” and urged people to stay away.

Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was shocked and upset at the tragedy.

“Unprecedented snowfall & rush of ppl proceeding without checking weather conditions caught district admin unprepared,” he tweeted.

“Have ordered inquiry & putting in place strong regulation to ensure prevention of such tragedies.”