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22 tourists missing as bridge collapses in Neelum Valley

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Khizar Hayat Abbasi;

MUZAFFARABAD: As many as 22 tourists swept away when a suspension bridge collapsed in Neelum Valley of Azad Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday, local administration officials said.
The officials said that the bridge over the Jagran Nullah in Kundal Shahi area, some 60 kilometers from Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Jammu and Kashmir collapsed at a time when some 25 tourists stopped in the middle to take pictures.
The temporary erected hanging bridge could not withstand the load of people and collapsed tumbling the visitors down in the fast flowing water of the stream.
Rescue teams have recovered at least seven bodies from the water while search operation for the rest is under way. 11 injured tourists have been moved to local hospital for medical treatment initially and later flown to Combined Military Hospital Muzaffarabad through Army helicopters
According to initial reports the most of the victims were from TIPS College for Accountancy Madni Town Faisalabad and Sharif Medical College in Lahore. There were around 70 tourists students of the both college and 35 of them were on bridge when it collapsed.
Azad Jammu and Kashmir Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider Khan also reached the scene to personally supervise the rescue operation. He directed the Deputy Commissioner of district Neelum to accelerate the search operation and provide all available medical facilities to the injured. A control room has been set up in Muzaffarabad to monitor the situation.
Commissioner Muzaffarabad Imtiaz Ahmed told that dead bodies of seven victims identified as: Shah Zaib, Abdul Rehman, Muhammad Zubair, Shahzad, Nadeem, Saeed and Hamad have been recovered from the water while eleven injured including Anum Matloob, Anisa Bibi, Walid and Sajid have been rescued and admitted in District Hospital Authmaqam for medical treatment. 11 other tourists are still missing.
The commissioner further told that Pakistan Army is assisting local civil administration in rescue and search operation besides the local people.
Known as haven for nature lovers, Neelum Valley is bordering with the Kupwara and Bandipora districts of Indian Kahsmir. The valley is famous tourists’ destination where thousands of sightseers and vacationers thronged especially in summer to enjoy the natural beauty and amazing weather of this mountainous region.
But unfortunately facilities for increasing number of tourists in the area are basic and need to be upgraded both in terms of their protection and safety and better boarding and lodging.
“What happened at Kundal Shahi on Sunday is a clarion call for us to take swift action and upgrade the facilities for the visitors to save tourism industry,” said Abdul Majid Khan, Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf parliamentary leader in AJK Assembly.
Khan who had served as tourism and information minister in the past in AJK emphasized that roads leading to the valley and bridges over them need to be properly maintained besides provision of better boarding and lodging facilities to the visitors.

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