LAHORE: At least 16 people died while travelling on the motorway on Thursday morning due to extremely poor visibility caused by thick fog that has prematurely developed over the plains of Punjab.
In Lahore, the intensity of the health-threatening smog let up on Wednesday night and Thursday morning due to night cooling and enhanced relative humidity in the air. It nevertheless, resurged as the temperature arose in the afternoon, especially affecting the heavily dusty under-construction path of the metro train from Thoker Niaz Beg to GT Road near Batapur, around the steel mills that are polluting air by using trash like used tyres as fuel and the busy roads that remain choked with traffic.
People, especially those who travel by motorcycles, have been complaining of severe irritation and burning of eyes, noses and throats since Wednesday because of smog which has also greatly affected those already suffering from asthma.
Adviser to the Punjab Chief Minister Khwaja Salman Rafique, who heads a committee constituted by CM Shahbaz Sharif to suggest how to tackle smog, said at a news conference that it was not caused by development works in Lahore. It developed all over the province and if required schools would be closed to prevent children from getting affected by the phenomenon.
Motorway authorities said that a caravan of around 300 to 400 vehicles from Peshawar was moving towards Raiwind to take part in a tableeghi congregation here. It continued to move towards Lahore despite a strict warning to abandon the motorway before Sukheke near Hafizabad where travel had become dangerous because of zero visibility caused by dense fog.
The driver of a pick-up ahead who had ignored the diversion indicators suddenly applied brakes after getting confused in the thick fog in the middle of the motorway, leading to a pile-up of vehicles. As a result 12 travellers were killed and five injured critically.
Meanwhile, a woman and her son were killed at Faisalabad’s Chiraghabad interchange after two cars collided with each other on the fogbound motorway.
In Sheikhupura, two people were killed and 12 other injured in two fog generated pileups.
Unconfirmed reports indicated more deaths in other parts of the province in road accidents caused by thick fog.
Officials of the Motorway and Highways Authority said that the Multan Road from Lahore to Mian Channu remained blanketed with dense fog on Wednesday night, reducing visibility to zero. A senior Lahore Met Department official said a fresh westerly wave over the northern areas also contributed towards lessening of smog by changing the direction of the upper air.
A high-pressure area had made the upper air static and turned it into a canopy, preventing the pollution at the lower level from escaping upwards. The mixture of these suspended pollutants with medium level moisture created smog as a result.
Chief Meteorologist Riaz Khan said that fog or smog would lessen in the next two to three days because of the rain and clouds to be generated by the westerly wave mainly over the upper parts of the country. But they would persist with varied conditions till December because of the expected less or no rain.
The plains of the country witness mist at this time of the year. But it has now become smog over Lahore because of extraordinary amount of pollution in the air.
Environment Secretary Saif Anjum said dust and emissions from factories using trash as fuel were adding to pollution in Lahore and said enforcement of environment laws were going to be strictly ensured not only here but also in other parts of the province.
An official said there were 300 steel mills in north Lahore and up to Batapur, all using trash, including used tyres, as fuel.