Oil tanker explosion kills 140 in Ahmadpur Sharqia
BAHAWALPUR (Web desk) – At least 140 people were killed and scores injured in a fire that broke out after an oil tanker overturned in Bahawalpur early Sunday and crowds rushed to collect fuel, an official said.
The tragedy came one day before Pakistan was due to begin Eid ul-Fitr celebrations marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramazan, with many roads crowded as people travel home for the holidays.
The tanker carrying 40,000 litres of fuel overturned on a main highway while travelling from Karachi to Lahore, near the town of Ahmadpur East in Punjab province.
Residents could be seen walking past blackened and twisted bodies piled by the side of the road. Earlier, television footage showed shooting flames and a thick plume of smoke as firefighters battled to extinguish the blaze.
The charred wreckage of dozens of motorcycles and cars could be seen scattered on the highway, along with kitchen utensils, pots, water coolers, jerrycans and buckets which victims had brought to collect the petrol.
Both Riffat and senior local government official Rana Mohammed Saleem Afzal, speaking to state television, said at least 123 people had been killed. Afzal said more than 100 were wounded.
“Many bodies could not be identified as they have been charred very badly,” Riffat said.
Punjab provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah has said that DNA tests were being used to identify the dead. He said the driver of the tanker had survived the crash and been taken into custody.
The massive fire injured at least 120 people who were shifted to Victoria Hospital for medical assistance. However; the death toll is rising due to the non-availability of burn unit and lack of facilities in emergency as it hindered the treatment of the patients.
Pakistan Motorway Police spokesman Imran Shah told AFP they received a call about the accident at around 6.30 am.
Motorway police raced to the scene and tried to keep people away from the tanker, he said, adding that they were ignored as residents continued filling their containers with fuel.
Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa conveyed his sympathies and ordered provision of full assistance to civil administration.
The military said it was sending army helicopters to evacuate the wounded and hospitals were put on high alert. The nearest burns centre is believed to be more than 150 kilometres away.
DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor posted on social media that at least 51 seriously burnt critical victims have been shifted from Bahawalpur to Multan through Army helicopters.
A doctor in Ahmadpur East, who requested anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to media, said more than 100 people had been brought to the local hospital with more than 80 percent burns before they were rushed to larger hospitals in Multan and Bahawalpur.
Details were unclear but some witnesses suggested the tanker had suffered a burst tyre, said regional police chief Raja Riffat.
“When it 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,” Riffat told AFP.
“After about 10 minutes the tanker exploded in a huge fireball and enveloped the people collecting petrol.” Eye witnesses say that some people were smoking cigarettes which could have ignited the inferno.
LIST OF INJURED
CM TAKES NOTICE
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif while taking notice of the incident has expressed grief and directed to provide full medical assistance to the patients. Punjab CM has also summoned report of the tragedy from the concerned authorities.
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.
On social media users posted messages of grief and solidarity with the victims of the oil tanker crash as well as Friday s attacks, as many prayed for a safe Eid.
— with inputs from agencies.