At least 22 people have died while being stuck in their vehicles as a heavy snowstorm thronged the mountain resort town of Murree in northern Pakistan, officials confirmed on Saturday. Ten children were among the dead.
Rashid Ahmed, Pakistan’s interior minister, said more than 100,000 cars got stranded in a blizzard that caught the scenic town located about 40 miles (64 km) northeast of the country’s capital—Islamabad.
The minister added that the government has launched a rescue operation for people who remain trapped and also mobilized the military to clear roads and assist with the mission. It’s possible dozens more could be found dead.
According to a police spokesperson and local media reports, more than 100,000 vehicles entered the mountain resort area in the past few days to see the enormous snowfalls, causing a huge traffic jam on roads leading in and out of the town.
“For the first time in 15 to 20 years, such a large number of tourists flocked to Murree, creating a huge crisis,” Ahmed said in a video message.
Late on Friday, the government announced the closure of all roads leading to the hill station in an effort to stop any further influx of tourists.
Abdul Rehman, a district emergency officer, confirmed the death toll soared to 22 tourists while a rescue operation in the hilly area is still underway. Among the victims so far are 10 children and two women, The Associated Press reported.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a statement on social media he is “shocked & upset” over the “tragic deaths” of nearly a dozen tourists traveling to Murree.
“Unprecedented snowfall & rush of [people] proceeding without checking weather conditions caught district admin unprepared,” Khan said, adding that he has “ordered [an] inquiry and [is] putting in place strong regulations to ensure [the] prevention of such tragedies.”
Ahmed told the video conference that more than 4 feet of snow fell in the area late on Friday. Officials said later on Saturday that much of the road leading to the area’s resorts were largely cleared of snow, but some work was still being done.
Authorities appealed to people to not visit the hill station.