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Pak oil tanker explosion: Nearly 150 dead, bodies burnt beyond recognition

The toll may increase as many of the injured are said to be in critical condition, police said.

world Updated: Jun 25, 2017 20:55 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad, Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Pakistan fire,Pakistan fire casualties,Pakistan blaze
Burnt out cars and motorcycles are seen at the scene of an oil tanker explosion in Bahawalpur, Pakistan.(Reuters Photo)

Nearly 150 people including women and children died and more than 125 others were injured in Pakistan on Sunday when an oil tanker caught fire minutes after it overturned near Bahawalpur in central Punjab.

Most of those who died were burnt when they tried to siphon off fuel from the tanker as petrol flooded the area.

The tanker en route from Karachi to Lahore carrying 40,000 litres of fuel overturned when trying to make a sharp turn on the main National highway. It is reported to have exploded after fuel leaking from its damaged container caught fire.

A large crowd of people, including women and children, had gathered at the scene to collect the leaked oil when the fire erupted. Labourers working in nearby fields rushed to the spot to collect fuel and were caught up in the ensuing fire too.

Motorway Police spokesman Imran Shah said police raced to the scene and tried to keep people away from the tanker but they were ignored as residents continued filling their containers with fuel.

“When [the tanker] turned over the residents of the nearby village of Ramzanpur Joya rushed to the site with buckets and other containers, and a large number of people on motorcycles also came and started collecting the spilling fuel,” police chief Raja Riffat told local media.

“After about 10 minutes, the tanker exploded in a huge fireball and enveloped the people collecting petrol. It was not clear how the fire started.”

Some reports said a spark from the many cars and motorcycles that raced to the scene may have ignited the fuel.

Firefighters fought the flames for over two hours before extinguishing it.

The charred wreckage of the motorcycles and cars was seen scattered on the highway, along with kitchen utensils, pots, water coolers, jerrycans and buckets which victims had brought to collect the petrol.

Dr Rizwan Naseer, director of Punjab provincial rescue services, said many of the charred bodies are beyond recognition. They have to be identified through DNA testing.

Reports said more than 70 people have been shifted to Bahawal Victoria Hospital, Bahawalpur, an hour’s drive from the site of the incident. That hospital does not have a burn unit, leading to severe difficulties in providing necessary treatment, officials said.

They expect the death toll to rise in the coming days.

Army helicopters transported 51 injured people from Bahawalpur to Nishtar Hospital in Multan, about 100 kilometres away.

The tragedy came one day before Pakistan was due to begin Eid ul-Fitr celebrations marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramzan, with many roads crowded as people travel home for the holidays.

Hospital workers carry in the first victims of an oil tanker explosion in Bahawalpur at Nishtar hospital in Multan. (Reuters Photo)

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed his grief and directed the government of Punjab province, run by his brother Shabhaz Sharif, to provide “full medical assistance”.

Sharif, who was in Britain for Eid holiday, decided to cut short his trip and return.

The prime minister has already been criticised for going on holiday after recent terror attacks in Parachinar and Quetta.

On social media, users posted messages of grief and solidarity with the victims of the oil tanker crash, as many prayed for a safe Eid.

Pakistan has an appalling record of fatal traffic accidents due to poor roads, badly maintained vehicles and reckless driving.

At least 62 people including women and children were killed in southern Pakistan in 2015 when their bus collided with an oil tanker, starting a fierce blaze that left victims burnt beyond recognition.

The country has also long struggled to contain a chronic energy crisis, with regular blackouts suffocating industry and exacerbating anger against the government.

(WARNING -- Graphic content) Pakistani rescue workers gather near burnt bodies after an oil tanker caught fire. (AFP Photo)

The crash came days after a series of militant attacks killed at least 57 people across the country Friday, unnerving many Pakistanis, with authorities ordering a security crackdown. (With inputs from agencies)

First Published: Jun 25, 2017 10:40 IST