An overturned oil tanker has burst into flames in Pakistan after a person tried to light a cigarette nearby, killing at least 150 people who had rushed to the scene of the highway accident to gather leaking fuel, officials say.
About 80 people were injured, with many suffering serious burns.
The tanker overturned after trying to make a sharp turn on the national highway on the outskirts of the city of Bahawalpur, about 100 kilometres 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.
Tweet from Marriyum Aurangzeb: “I don’t have the words to express my grief on the devastating Ahmed Pur Sharkia tragedy. Nation united in their prayers for all affectees”
“People of the area and passers by had started gathering fuel when the tanker exploded, burning everybody on and around the spot,” provincial government spokesman Malik Muhammad Ahmed Khan said.
Imran Shah, a spokesman for the highway police, told a local TV channel police moved quickly to redirect traffic but could not stop the scores of villagers who raced to collect the fuel.
Residents were told of the leaking fuel over a loudspeaker atop the local mosque, deputy commissioner of Bahawalpur Rana Mohammad Salim said, adding that the dead included men, women and children
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.
“According to the initial reports, somebody tried to light a cigarette … leading to the tanker’s explosion,” a rescue service spokesman said.
‘We saw bodies everywhere’: Witnesses recount horror scene
Witness Mohammed Salim ran toward the smoke carrying buckets of water and sand, but said the heat was too intense to reach those in need.
“I could hear people screaming but I couldn’t get to them,” he said.
Abdul Malik, a local police officer who was also among the first to arrive, described a “horrible scene.”
“I have never seen anything like it in my life. Victims trapped in the fireball. They were screaming for help,” he said.
When the fire subsided, “we saw bodies everywhere … the people who were alive were in really bad shape,” he added.
Firefighters fought the flames for over two hours before extinguishing the fire.
Serious burn victims, several in critical condition, were airlifted by helicopter to hospitals in Bahawalpur and nearby cities for treatment.
The prime minister’s office said the Punjab provincial government had been directed to provide full medical assistance.
The disaster came on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
While Saudi Arabia and most other Muslim countries celebrated the holiday Sunday, Pakistanis will celebrate on Monday.