People walk past vehicles trapped in heavy snow in Murree

People walk past vehicles trapped in heavy snow in Murree
Thousands affected at popular destination of Murree with eight of those killed from same family

Atiq Ahmed, an Islamabad police officer, said eight of the 22 fatalities were from the family of fellow Islamabad police officer Naveed Iqbal, who also died. All 16 died of hypothermia, officials said.

Rescue services physician Abdur Rehman said that after evacuating all of the stranded tourists from their cars, the death toll stood at 22, including 10 men, 10 children and two women.

The interior minister, sheikh Rashid Ahmed, said thousands of vehicles had been pulled from the snow but more than a thousand were still stuck in the area on Saturday.

Murree, 28 miles (45.5km) north of the capital of Islamabad, is a popular winter resort that attracts well over a million tourists annually.

Streets leading into the city are often blocked by snow in winter.

Ahmed said more than 4ft (1.2 metres) of snow fell in the area overnight and all incoming traffic was blocked on Saturday.

The minister said paramilitary troops and a special military mountain unit had been called in to help.

The military is trying to rescue people who are still trapped
The military is trying to rescue people who are still trapped
"Until then no vehicle or even people on foot are allowed to enter Murree except for the emergency and rescue vehicles and those bringing food for the stuck people," he said.

Umar Maqbool, a local administrator, said the heavy snowfall hampered rescue efforts during the night and heavy equipment brought in to clear the snow got stuck initially.

Officials gave no further details about those who had died in their stuck vehicles but said they were working on both recovery and rescue operations.

Food and blankets were distributed to the stuck tourists.

Video shared on social media showed cars packed bumper-to-bumper, with 3ft high (1 metre) piles of snow on their roofs.

"The heavy snowfall caused a traffic jam and the closure of roads," Babar Khan, a tourist who was stranded for hours, told AFP by phone.

"Roads were also closed due to falling trees in many places."

The website of Pakistan's National Weather Forecasting Centre said heavy snowfall was expected in the area until Sunday afternoon. While Fawad Chaudhry, the Information minister, said "decades" of weather records had been broken in the last 48 hours.

The Punjab province chief minister's office said the surroundings had been declared a "disaster area" and urged people to stay away.

Imran Khan, Pakistan's prime minister, said he was shocked and upset at the tragedy.

"Unprecedented snowfall & rush of ppl proceeding without checking weather conditions caught district admin unprepared," he tweeted.

"Have ordered inquiry & putting in place strong regulation to ensure prevention of such tragedies."

Most streets leading to the area's resorts were largely cleared of snow later on Saturday but some work was still being done, Maqbool said. Military troops and machines were working to clear all the streets and the military established relief camps at army run schools that provided shelter and food.