Rain in Punjab, K-P and snowfall in Gilgit, Chitral herald the advent of winter
ISLAMABAD / MANSEHRA: Hundreds of tourists, among them women and children, were stranded in Naran Valley of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) after a heavy snowstorm cut off the area from the rest of the country on Sunday.
According to locals and police officials, Shahrah-e-Kaghan was blocked from Balakot to Naran and from Naran to Jalkhad, Lake Saiful Muluk and Babusar.
Snowfall came early this year. It started lashing Kaghan Valley on Saturday and continued intermittently for a second consecutive day on Sunday. The area from Naran to Babusar Top received up to four feet of snow, leaving the roads blocked and over 1,200 tourists, including women and children, from across the country stranded. They faced difficulties as they ran out of supplies amidst continuous rain and snowfall, according to news channels.
Taking advantage of the situation, local hoteliers and restaurateurs raised prices of food and housing. Hoteliers, however, claimed that they were offering free accommodation to the stranded tourists.
The fresh spell of snowfall had started Saturday afternoon, also trapping several vehicles on the roads. The stranded tourists complained that the local administration was nowhere to be seen and no arrangements were made to clear the roads. They said they were running out of food supplies and warm clothing to fight the freezing cold.
According to the Assistant Commissioner Balakot, heavy machinery and personnel of the National Highway Authority (NHA) have been sent to reopen about 85-kilometre blocked portion of the 220-kilometre long Shahrah-e-Kaghan.
Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) troops cleared the route from Bhatta Kunddi to Naran and with the help of dozers started clearing roads inside Naran Valley. They also rescued the tourists stuck in Bharwai and guided their convoy to Naran.
Meanwhile a spokesperson for the administration said federal government agencies have reopened the Naran-Abbottabad road for traffic. Helicopters have been provided to the provincial government to rescue the tourists stranded in the Naran and Mansehra areas. However, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) could not yet launch the evacuation operation because of bad weather conditions.
The spokesperson said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was overseeing the situation and had ordered providing further support, including more helicopters, to the provincial government if required. The NDMA has already arranged four helicopters to airlift the tourists, added the spokesperson.
“The prime minister has directed the NDMA to coordinate with the provincial government evacuating the stranded tourists. On the premier’s directive, the interior secretary has contacted the K-P chief secretary and offered all possible assistance to rescue the people.”
The weather turned cold Sunday morning as Islamabad, Lahore, Multan and several other cities of Punjab and K-P received rainfall Saturday night. Meanwhile, the mountainous areas of Gilgit and Chitral received snowfall, sending mercury to a dip.
Different parts of Lahore and surrounding areas received light rain with thunder and lightning in some areas late Saturday, while light downpour began with the break of dawn.
According to the Met office, 3.5 millimeters of rain have so far been recorded in Multan, with temperatures falling from 32 degree Celsius to a chilly 19 degrees. Peshawar and other areas of K-P have also been receiving heavy to light rainfall for the past few hours.
The Met Office forecasts that intermittent rain and snowfall will continue throughout the day, turning the weather pleasant and announcing the start of the winter season.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2015.