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Pakistan snow: Hundreds rescued from vehicles in deadly blizzard

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Hundreds of people who were trapped in vehicles in a deadly blizzard have been moved to safety as rescuers scramble to clear roads in northern Pakistan.

Police said as many as 500 families had been stranded as would-be tourists rushed to view the winter snowfall in the hilltop town of Murree.

At least 22 people have died, including a family of eight and another family of five, officials said.

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The blizzard on Friday felled trees and blocked roads in and out of Murree.

All of those who survived after becoming trapped in their vehicles are now said to be safe, with some placed in shelters set up in the resort town, which sits at 2,300 metres (7,500 feet) above sea level.

Gas and water supplies are running low in the area, but local residents and restaurants are helping with accommodation, food and blankets.

Tariq Ullah, an official in the nearby town of Nathiagali, told AFP news agency that the blizzard had delivered four to five feet of snow within just a few hours.

“It was not snow, and not even heavy snow, it was unprecedented,” he said. “There were strong winds, uprooted trees, avalanches. People around were terrified.”

Image source, Getty Images

Pictures and video posted on social media showed cars trapped bumper to bumper, with snow piled on their roofs.

Among those who perished were 10 children, according to emergency services. Police said at least six had frozen to death in their cars. Asphyxiation after inhaling fumes while trying to keep warm in their vehicles has been given as a possible reason for the others.

Emergency services were first alerted to families becoming stranded on Friday morning.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “shocked and upset at [the] tragic deaths” of the tourists, noting how the snowfall and the “rush of [people] proceeding without checking weather conditions caught district admin unprepared”.

Opposition leader and former Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif questioned how the tragedy could have happened and why arrangements had not been put in place for the influx of tourists.

“Incompetence is fast turning into criminality,” he wrote in a tweet.

The Punjab provincial government said that after the rescue operation was completed, there would be a full investigation into whether there was a failure to act on severe weather warnings.

“A high-level inquiry will be launched and if there is any kind of negligence, then action will be taken against all those involved,” spokesman Hasaan Khawar said.

Murree was built by the British in the 19th century as a medical base for its colonial troops.

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