Islamabad – Pakistan began Eid in mourning on Monday as the death toll in an oil tanker explosion rose to 157, with scores injured after they were caught in a fireball while scooping up spilled fuel.
Dozens of relatives were waiting outside hospitals in Bahawalpur, the nearest major city, to claim the bodies of their loved ones as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrived early Monday to visit victims after cutting short a visit to London.
The deadly tanker carrying 40,000 litres of fuel overturned after trying to make a sharp turn while travelling from Karachi to Lahore on the main highway.
It is reported to have exploded after fuel leaking from its damaged container caught fire. One hundred people were injured as a result of the incident, government officials said.
A large crowd of people, including women and children, had gathered at the scene to collect the leaked oil when the fire erupted.
The regional police chief Raja Riffat said, “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.”
“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.”
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.
It is stated that at least six cars and 12 motorcycles were burnt in the blaze.
The charred wreckage of the 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.
The fire brigade arrived on the site of the incident shortly after the blaze started and rescue operations were initiated.
Firefighters fought the flames for over two hours before extinguishing the fire.
The injured were transferred to District Headquarters Hospital and Bahawal Victoria Hospital, rescue officials said. They added that all bodies were removed from the site of the incident and only the damaged vehicles remained.