Overturned Oil Tanker Explodes in Pakistan, Killing 148
Albanian Daily News
Published June 25, 2017
Police in Pakistan were overwhelmed by scores of villagers who pushed through to reach an oil tanker to gather fuel. The tanker burst into flames leaving more than 100 dead. Photograph: Faisal Kareem/EPAAn overturned oil tanker burst into flames in Pakistan on Sunday, killing 148 people who had rushed to the scene of the highway accident to gather leaking fuel, an official said.
Local news channels showed black smoke billowing skyward and horrific images of scores of burned bodies, as well as rescue officials speeding the injured to hospital and army helicopters ferrying the wounded.
The death toll could rise further as another 50 people are still in critical condition, said Dr Mohammad Baqar, a senior rescue official in the area. There were dozens of other injuries of varying degree, he said.
The tanker flipped over on the national highway about 100km (60 miles) southwest of Multan. The tanker was driving from the southern port city of Karachi to Lahore, the Punjab provincial capital, when the driver lost control and crashed.
A loudspeaker on top of a local mosque alerted villagers to the leaking fuel, and scores raced to the site with jerry cans, said Rana Mohammad Salim, deputy commissioner of Bahawalpur. Highway police moved quickly to redirect traffic but couldn't stop the scores of villagers who raced to collect the fuel, spokesman Imran Shah told a local TV channel.
Nearby villagers ran toward the overturned tanker with jerry cans to take the leaking fuel, said Naseer. Police tried to cordon off the area but were overwhelmed by the scores of villagers who pushed through to reach the truck.
Eyewitnesses said about 30 motorcycles that had carried villagers to the accident site lay in charred ruins nearby. Eight other vehicles were destroyed, they said.
Many of the bodies were burned beyond recognition, said Naseer.
"People of the area and passersby had started gathering fuel when the tanker exploded, burning everybody on and around the spot," provincial government spokesman Malik Muhammad Ahmed Khan told Reuters.
Saznoor Ahmad, 30, whose two cousins were killed in the fire, said the crowd of people screamed as the flames engulfed them. "The fire moved so fast," he said.
When the flames subsided the field was strewn with bodies, and nearby were the charred shells of motorcycles and cars that the villagers had used to race to the scene.
As the wounded cried out for help, residents wandered through the area looking for loved ones.
Zulkha Bibi was searching for her two sons. "Someone should tell me about my beloved sons, where are they? Are they alive or are they no longer in this world? Please tell me," she pleaded.
Serious burn victims, several in critical condition, were airlifted by helicopter to hospitals in Bahawalpur and nearby cities for treatment.
Only days ago local community leaders had called for a burns unit to be established at the nearest major health facility, the Bahawalpur Victoria Hospital, where scores of the injured have been taken for treatment.
"According to the initial reports, somebody tried to light a cigarette, and when the spilt fuel caught fire, leading to the tanker's explosion," said Jam Sajjad Hussain, spokesman for the rescue services.
Firefighters fought the flames for over two hours before they were put out. The prime minister's office said the Punjab provincial government had been directed to provide full medical assistance.
"Prime minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif has expressed deep grief over the heavy loss of life in the unfortunate accident of oil tanker fire at Ahmad Pur Sharqia, Bahawalpur," the statement said.
Imran Khan, the leader of the Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI), said it was a "national tragedy of epic proportions".
Pakistan has an appalling record of fatal traffic accidents due to poor roads, badly maintained vehicles and reckless driving.
At least 65 people were killed in a similar incident 18 years ago in Punjab, when an overturned fuel truck in Adda Rodu Sultan exploded just as dozens had gathered to collect petrol.
The country has also long struggled to contain a chronic energy crisis, with regular blackouts crippling industry and exacerbating anger against the government.
(Source: The Guardian)