ISLAMABAD (AP) – Temperatures dropped to minus 8 degrees Celsius (17.6 degrees Fahrenheit) amid heavy snowfall in the Pakistani mountain resort town of Murree overnight, killing at least 22 people who were trapped in their vehicles, authorities said Saturday.
Atiq Ahmed, an Islamabad police officer, said eight of the 23 deaths were in the family of fellow police officer Naveed Iqbal, who also died. Most of the victims died of hypothermia, authorities said.
Rescue services doctor Abdur Rehman said that after evacuating all the stranded tourists from their cars, the death toll rose to 22, including 10 men, 10 children and two women.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said thousands of vehicles had been pulled out of the snow, but more than a thousand remained trapped in the area on Saturday.
Located 28 miles (45.5 kilometres) north of the capital Islamabad, Murree is a popular winter resort that attracts more than a million tourists a year. The streets leading into the city are often blocked by snow in winter.
Ahmed, the interior minister, said more than 4 feet (1.2 meters) of snow fell in the area overnight and all incoming traffic was blocked on Saturday. The minister said paramilitary troops and a special mountain military unit had been called in to help.
“Until then, no vehicles or even people on foot can enter Murree except emergency and rescue vehicles and those that bring food for trapped people,” he said.
Umar Maqbool, a local administrator, said heavy snowfall hampered rescue efforts overnight and even heavy equipment brought in to clear the snow initially got stuck.
Officials did not elaborate on those who died in their snow-covered vehicles but said they were working on both recovery and rescue operations. Maqbool said that food and blankets were distributed to tourists trapped overnight.
Most of the streets leading to the area’s resorts were largely cleared of snow on Saturday, but some work is still being done, Maqbool said. Troops and military machines were working to clear all the streets and the military set up relief camps in army-run schools that provided shelter and food.