ISLAMABAD: A five-member committee set up by the Punjab government to investigate the deaths of 22 people, including 10 children, at the popular mountain resort town of Murree last weekend formally started functioning today, Tuesday.
More than 4 feet (1 meter) of snow fell in the area of the Murree Hills resort in the town of Murree near the capital Islamabad on Friday night and early Saturday, trapping the cars of snow-tourists who had thronged to the area in the thousands. The heavy snowfall also caused a massive traffic jam.
Most of the victims suffered hypothermia as temperatures fell to minus 8 degrees Celsius (17.6 Fahrenheit). Officials said some died of carbon monoxide poisoning from running their car heaters while their mufflers were choked by snow.
Critics of the government say local authorities were ill-equipped to handle the annual influx of snow-tourists and did not prepare to deal with an emergency situation amid unusually heavy snowfall. They say even though authorities warned last weekend that too many vehicles were trying to enter Murree, they failed to discourage hordes of day trippers from going up the mountain over the weekend.
“The committee — led by Additional Chief Secretary Home Zafar Nasrullah and assisted by provincial government secretaries Ali Sarfraz and Asad Gillani, Additional Inspector General of Punjab Police Farooq Mazhar and an opted member — is likely to reach Murree in the next two days to proceed with the investigation,” Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported.
“The committee has been tasked with completing its report and determining responsibility within seven days.”
Members of the committee will interview senior police and traffic officers and officials of the district administration, communication and works department, National Highway Authority, National Disaster Management Authority and Provincial Disaster Management Authority as part of the investigation. It will also review the record of phone calls made by tourists to the emergency police number ‘15’ and Rescue 1122 to assess their response.
On Monday, opposition parties rejected Buzdar’s probe committee, asking instead for a judicial probe into the case.
“The entire opposition demands that a judicial commission be constituted to hold all those responsible for the negligence accountable, we won’t settle for less than this,” leader of the opposition Shehbaz Sharif said during Monday’s National Assembly session where lawmakers debated the Murree deaths. “People remained stuck for 20 hours and there was no one to take care of them.”
“This is a straight case of administrative failure which can’t be pardoned,” he said, holding the government responsible for what he said was “manslaughter.”
According to a statement released by the interior ministry on Monday, the federal government has extended a ban on entry into Murree for another 24 hours due to ongoing rescue operations in the surrounding areas. The ban does not apply to residents of the areas.
“The situation in Murree and its surrounding Galyat areas is continuously being assessed,” the statement said. “The decision to lift the ban on entry would be taken after reviewing the situation.”