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Pakistani workers use a bulldozer to open a road that was blocked after a heavy snowstorm, in Murree some 46 kilometers north of the capital of Islamabad, Pakistan, on Jan. 9, 2022.Ghulam Rasool/The Associated Press

Roads at a popular Pakistani resort were cleared Sunday after the deaths of 22 people who were stuck in their cars during a heavy snowstorm as temperatures plummeted, officials said.

More than 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. The heavy snow caused hundreds of vehicles to become buried or otherwise stuck.

Most of the victims suffered hypothermia as temperatures fell to minus 8 degrees Celsius. A rescue physician said some died of carbon monoxide poisoning from running their car heaters while their mufflers were choked by snow.

Punjab police said in a statement that all roads in and around the resort had been cleared but that incoming traffic to the resort was still not allowed. Police said some 700 vehicles were pulled from the snow and the remaining stranded tourists were taken to safety Saturday night. Most were taken to one of five military-run relief camps and provided with medication and hot meals.

The government of Prime Minister Imran Khan came under heavy criticism for not being prepared for the situation and for acting too late, causing the heavy loss of human lives. Opposition politicians Bilawal Zardari and Mariyam Nawaz were among critics of the government’s performance.

Khan acknowledged in a tweet that the administration was caught unprepared by the heavy snow and huge number of tourists travelling to the resort. Traditionally many Pakistanis, regardless of the weather forecast, flock to Murree Hills at the first report of snowfall.

Located 46 kilometres north of the capital of Islamabad, Murree is a popular winter resort town that attracts well over a million tourists annually. Streets leading into the town are often blocked by snow in winter.

Among the dead were an Islamabad police officer and seven members of his family, a couple with two sons and two daughters from the garrison city of Rawalpindi and four friends from the northwestern city of Mardan. Their funerals took place Sunday in their native towns.

The Islamabad officer, Naveed Iqbal, died along with his sister, three nephews and three of his children. Local media reported that in his last telephone call to his only surviving son he said: “We are just going to turn on the heat and go to sleep.”

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