BAHAWALPUR: In a tragic and gory incident, 154 people were burnt alive on Sunday while collecting fuel from an oil tanker that crashed and exploded on the National Highway.
Over 200 people sustained burn injuries and many of them are stated to be in critical condition.
The speeding tanker carrying 25,000 litres of petrol was on its way from Karachi to Lahore when it overturned on a highway in the Kachi Pul area, some eight kilometres from Ahmedpur East, as the driver lost control when a tyre of the vehicle got punctured.
A large crowd of people gathered, many to collect fuel in containers. But the tanker exploded in a huge fireball about 45 minutes later. The blast also destroyed dozens of bikes and cars.
Rescue workers said more than 200 people were injured in the horrifying incident, most of them in critical condition.
“The people of the area and passers-by had started gathering fuel when it exploded, burning everybody alive,” provincial government spokesman Malik Muhammad Ahmed Khan said. An estimated 20 children were among the dead, he said.
Many bodies were burnt beyond recognition and television pictures showed piles of burnt motorcycles, apparently of those people who were collecting fuel or watching the event.
The police tried to clear the area before the tanker exploded but the people ignored them, Khan said, adding that the initial crash had blocked the road, causing a traffic gridlock.
Muhammad Shabbir, a villager, said the driver was shouting to warn the people to stay away as the petrol could catch fire at any time, but no one listened to him. “What is the use of this petrol? What will you be doing with it now?” he asked a local who was carrying a bucket filled with oil.
The officials said most of the bodies could not be identified as they had been charred and would require DNA test for identification purposes.
The driver of the tanker survived the accident and was taken into police custody, he said.
The explosion took place on a stretch of highway cutting through the village of Ramzan Joya. Khalil Ahmed, a 57-year-old former government employee who lives in the village, said he had lost 12 relatives in the fire, which firefighters extinguished in two hours. “One body has been recovered and 11 others are still missing,” Ahmed said.
“After the spill, the people began calling their relatives to come and gather the oil, and some showed up from nearby villages as well. There must have been 500 people gathered when the fire began.”
“The people were collecting oil in bottles, cans and household utensils. We tried to get them to move back before the fire started but no one was listening,” Ahmed said.
He estimates that about 100 people from the small hamlet are missing. “The day of judgment has arrived for our village,” he said.
“According to initial reports, somebody tried to light a cigarette,” said rescue services spokesman Jam Sajjad Hussain.
According to Ahmedpur East THQ Hospital MS Dr Aurangzeb, more than 148 injured were shifted to the hospital. Later, 120 of them had been shifted to Bahawal Victoria Hospital, Bahawalpur.
Later, 59 critically-burnt patients were airlifted to the Nishtar Hospital, Multan, by the army helicopters. But 35 of them had to be flown to hospitals in Faisalabad and Kharian due to an overcrowded burn unit at Nishtar Hospital.
The bodies were collected at the blast scene by Rescue 1122 and transported to the Bahawal Victoria Hospital.
Meanwhile, Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) ordered an inquiry into oil tanker incident near Bahawalpur and directed the oil company concerned to furnish the findings of the report immediately.
Ogra has taken notice of the incident that occurred at Ahmedpur Sharqia, near Bahawalpur.
“An inquiry on this tragic incident has been initiated and the company concerned has been advised to submit its report immediately,” a news release of Ogra said. As soon as the report is received, further action will be taken accordingly.