An oil tanker crashed on a road in Pakistan on Sunday and at least 153 people, many of whom had rushed to collect leaking fuel, were killed when it exploded, apparently after someone lit a cigarette, officials said.
The tanker overturned on a sharp bend on a highway on the outskirts of the city of Bahawalpur. The driver lost control when the vehicle blew a tire, a provincial government spokesman said.
A large crowd of people gathered, many to collect fuel in containers, and the tanker exploded in a huge fireball about 45 minutes later. Rescue workers said about 80 people had been injured.
“People of the area and passers-by had started gathering fuel when it exploded, burning everybody,” provincial government spokesman Malik Muhammad Ahmed Khan said.
An estimated 20 children were among the dead, he said.
The tragedy came less than a day before Pakistan was due to begin Eid ul-Fitr celebrations marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, with many roads crowded as people travel home for the holidays.
The tanker carrying 40,000 litres of fuel was driving from the southern port city of Karachi to Lahore, the Punjab provincial capital, when the driver lost control.
According to initial reports, somebody tried to light a cigarette, said a spokesman for the rescue services, Jam Sajjad Hussain.
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.
Punjab provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah 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.
Pakistan Motorway Police spokesman Imran Shah said they received a call about the accident at around 6.30am.
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.
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 150km away.
A doctor in Ahmedpur East said more than 100 people had been brought to the local hospital with more than 80 per cent burns before they were rushed to larger hospitals in Multan and Bahawalpur.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed his grief and directed the government of Punjab province, run by his brother Shabhaz Sharif, to provide “full medical assistance”.
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.
The country has also long struggled to contain a chronic energy crisis, with regular blackouts crippling industry and exacerbating anger against the government.
A series of deadly militant attacks across the country Friday unnerved many Pakistanis, with officials increasing the death toll Sunday to a total of 69 - 51 dead in blasts in northwestern Parachinar, 14 killed in an attack targeting police in Quetta, and four police murdered in a drive-by shooting in Karachi.
Social media users Sunday 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.