Snow clearing vehicles parked at Sunny Bank during blizzard, Murree probe learns

Published January 13, 2022
Cars are seen stuck during snowfall in Murree in this file photo. — APP
Cars are seen stuck during snowfall in Murree in this file photo. — APP

• Tourists, goods vehicles allowed to enter hill station
• Official says Met Office warned of heavy snowfall, while SOPs for blizzards are different

RAWALPINDI: The committee formed to probe the Murree tragedy was told on Wednesday that of the 29 snow-moving heavy vehicles available, 20 of them were parked at Sunny Bank when a snow storm hit the hill station last weekend.

In addition, it emerged that drivers and staff deployed to man the vehicles were also not on duty at the time of the blizzard.

It is routine practice that whenever there is the risk of a blizzard, snow-clearing vehicles were deployed at various key points along the roads in the area so they can clear the snow before it accumulates and blocks the road.

Members of the probe committee visited Murree on Wednesday, where they recording the statements of operational staff and inspected the Kuldana-Barian Road, where at least 22 people lost their lives after getting stuck in the snow.

The district administration also lifted the ban on entry of tourists to the hill station and trucks carrying petrol and groceries were allowed to enter Murree.

An official told Dawn that 10-wheeler trucks would be allowed in after 11pm and truck owners and drivers would also have to follow standard operating procedures.

The administration has warned that given predictions about the possibility of extreme weather between Jan 17 and Jan 22, all necessary precautionary measures should be taken.

Probe committee

A senior government official told Dawn, “During initial investigations, the Met Office said they did not have an office Rawalpindi district. They said the heavy snowfall warning was issued through print and electronic media, but there is no official communication on the record.”

He said the department had predicted that there would be heavy snowfall over the weekend, however a blizzard that can uproot trees, occurred in Murree after a period of about 30 years. According to the official, standard operating procedures for blizzards and snowfall are completely different.

When the committee asked about the whereabouts of snow-clearing machinery, officials of the Highway Mechanical Department said that out of 29 vehicles, 20 were parked at Sunny Bank.

Furthermore, when quizzed about the whereabouts of the drivers, daily wagers and labourers who were supposed to clear fallen trees from the roads, Forest department officials failed to come up with satisfactory responses.

The committee has asked for the details of staff and their duty roster.

The committee also recorded the statements of Rescue 1122 officials about calls they received for help during the blizzard and the district administration was asked to submit details of contingency plans made to deal with snowfall and rain in the hill station.

According to data shared with the committee, 150,000 vehicles entered Murree from Jan 4 to Jan 8. The district administration sent back almost 50,000 vehicles from entry points and roads of Murree.

The committee members will also record the statements of tourists and locals.

The committee includes Punjab Home Department Additional Chief Secretary Zafar Nasarullah, Punjab Secretary Food Ali Sarfraz, Secretary (Agricuture) Asad Gillani and Additional Inspector General of Police Farooq Mazhar.

City Traffic Officer Taimor Khan, Assistant Commissioner Mohammad Omer Maqbool and other senior officials also appeared before the committee.

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2022

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