Death toll in Pakistan tanker fire climbs to 153

The tanker flipped over Sunday and the fire from the oil spill engulfed scores of residents who had rushed to collect leaking fuel.

Published: 25th June 2017 10:34 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th June 2017 07:13 PM   |  A+A-

The Pakistani military said it was sending army helicopters to evacuate the wounded, with hospitals placed on high alert.  | Picture Courtesy: @UdarOfficial

By Associated Press

BAHAWALPUR: An overturned oil tanker burst into flames in Pakistan on Sunday, killing 153 people who had rushed to the scene of the highway accident to gather leaking fuel, a hospital official said as the death toll continued to rise.

Dr. Javed Iqbal at Bahawalpur's Victoria Hospital in south Punjab said the latest deaths occurred at a hospital in Multan where some of the 50 critically injured, many of whom suffered extensive burns, had been taken.

The death toll could rise further as dozens 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.

Local news channels showed black smoke billowing skyward and scores of burned bodies, as well as rescue officials speeding the injured to hospital and army helicopters ferrying the wounded.

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.

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 mark it on Monday.

The tanker was driving from the southern port city of Karachi to Lahore, the Punjab provincial capital, when the driver lost control and crashed on the national highway outside Bahawalpur.

A loudspeaker atop 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.

When the fire erupted, the same mosque loudspeaker called on the remaining villagers to help put it out.

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, so many were just skeletons. The people who were alive were in really bad shape," he said.

Eyewitnesses said about 30 motorcycles that had carried villagers to the accident site lay charred nearby. Eight other vehicles were destroyed, they said.

A state of emergency was declared at the Victoria Hospital in Bahawalpur, said Dr.Iqbal. Within 15 minutes of the fire the hospital had called in extra doctors and nurses, and had formed a team to handle the emergency.

Iqbal said most of the patients suffered burns to upward of 80 percent of their bodies. After being stabilized 22 patients were transferred by C-130 aircraft to hospitals in the provincial capital, Lahore. Some of the most badly burned were evacuated by army helicopters to Multan, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) away.

The dead included men, women and children. Many were burned beyond recognition, Baqar said, and will have to be identified using DNA testing.

Stay up to date on all the latest World news with The New Indian Express App. Download now
(Get the news that matters from New Indian Express on WhatsApp. Click this link and hit 'Click to Subscribe'. Follow the instructions after that.)

Comments

Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the newindianexpress.com editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on newindianexpress.com are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of newindianexpress.com or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. newindianexpress.com reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp