At least 22 people, including 10 children, have died in a popular mountain resort town in Pakistan after being stuck in their vehicles overnight during a heavy snowstorm as temperatures plummeted, according to officials.
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 1 metre of snow fell in the area of the Murree Hills resort overnight Friday and early Saturday local time, trapping thousands of cars on roadways, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said.
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.
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Temperatures fell to -8C.
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 1000 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 46km 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.