On January 9, the Punjab government formed a committee to investigate what caused the death of 23 tourists in Murree, who were stuck in the snow for several hours.
The report, which was completed this week, and presented to Punjab chief minister Sardar Usman Buzdar, notes the following about the Murree tragedy:
The report notes that the administration finally did help stranded tourists, but it was in a haphazard manner without coordination and the most vulnerable were not reached.
The administration had no “plan B”, meaning there was no plan for what to do if the traffic got stuck? “As there was no alternate plan, 22 tourists paid the price with their lives,” states the report.
The National Disaster Management Authority sent a letter on January 5 containing instructions to divert traffic. The committee noted that these warnings were sent to the director-general Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) in Punjab. “Incidentally, the position of DG PDMA was vacant because the previous DG had relinquished charge on January 3,” adds the report.
Although the NDMA warning was shared on the PDMA WhatsApp group, which included both Commissioner Rawalpindi and DC Rawalpindi, these advisories were read too late leaving no time for planning and preparation.
The committee also examined the Twitter accounts, websites and Facebook pages of DC Rawalpindi, Rawalpindi Police, Rawalpindi Traffic Police, PDMA and the National Highway Authority after the weather advisory of January 5. No warning was issued to citizens not to travel to Murree by any of the entities prior to January 7.
More than 32,000 vehicles entered Murree and 22,460 left on January 7. According to the report, that means that 10,000 vehicles were trapped on that day in addition to an estimated 10,000 vehicles of Murree residents and businesses etc.
The request to close the entry into Murree from Islamabad was made at 5 p.m. by tehsil administration but it was implemented with a delay of almost five hours, which further worsened the situation.
While a traffic plan was issued on December 31, 2021, the plan was silent as to what the operating procedure would be to stem the flow of vehicles. It also did not encompass the steps required to clear the roads in case of a blizzard or heavy snowfall.
The Rescue 1122 staff refused to go out into the snow further down the road towards Barrian from the Kuldana roundabout to rescue people trapped. People complained that they were refused facilitation by the staff and asked to wait out the storm in their cars.
Inquiry has revealed that during the blizzard, the entire administrative, rescue and support machinery made limited attempts to rescue stranded tourists.
The committee recommended setting up a Control Room to monitor such incidents in the future and to decide on strict building code regulations regarding land use control. It further said that illegal buildings and structures be demolished in Murree.
The report finally recommends that 15 officers be suspended, including Commissioner Rawalpindi, and disciplinary proceedings be initiated against them.
23 dead after being stranded in Murree snow
It is worth mentioning that, according to official statistics, at least 23 people had died as thousands of tourist vehicles ended up being stranded in Murree due to heavy snowfall and ensuing road blockage on January 8.
The federal government deployed personnel of the Pakistan Army and other civil-armed forces for rescue operations in the hill station.
The Punjab government had declared Murree as a calamity-hit area after heavy snowfall wreaked havoc on the city. Taking notice of the chaos and emergency, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar had directed to open the government’s offices and rest houses for the stranded tourists.
According to the local administration of Murree, rain and blizzards were forecast around Murree, with thunderstorms at a speed of 50-90 kmph and heavy snowfall.
The administration had warned the citizens not to leave their homes in severe weather or drive towards Murree as severe weather conditions were forecast.