Crowd caught in tanker blast

Many who rushed to col­lect leak­ing fuel will need to be iden­ti­fied by DNA.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Aoun Sahi and Shashank Ben­gali shashank.ben­gali @la­times.com Twit­ter: @SBen­gali Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Sahi re­ported from Is­lam­abad and Times staff writer Ben­gali from Mum­bai, In­dia.

More than 150 peo­ple are killed in Pak­istan when vil­lagers rush to col­lect fuel from an over­turned oil truck and it ex­plodes.

IS­LAM­ABAD, Pak­istan — More than 150 peo­ple were killed Sun­day in Pak­istan when an oil tanker truck over­turned, a crowd rushed in to col­lect fuel and the ve­hi­cle ex­ploded, po­lice said.

The truck flipped over on a high­way in the city of Bahawalpur in Pun­jab prov­ince about 6 a.m. See­ing fuel spilling onto the road, vil­lagers in the area, some rid­ing mo­tor­cy­cles, rushed to the site with buck­ets and con­tain­ers, said Raja Rif­fat, the Bahawalpur po­lice chief.

“About 10 min­utes later, the tanker ex­ploded in a huge fire­ball and en­veloped the peo­ple col­lect­ing petrol,” Rif­fat said.

The health min­is­ter of Pun­jab prov­ince, Khawaja Im­ran Nazir, said at least 153 peo­ple had died. “Sev­eral more in­jured peo­ple are in se­ri­ous con­di­tion and the death toll could in­crease. It’s a sad day for the coun­try,” he said.

It was not im­me­di­ately clear what caused the fire to erupt. The ac­ci­dent oc­curred along a main artery that con­nects the south­ern port city of Karachi with the rest of the coun­try.

Baqar Hus­sain, a district emer­gency of­fi­cial, said 123 bod­ies and more than 120 in­jured were brought to hos­pi­tals, where more pre­sum­ably died. Many of the bod­ies were so badly burned that they could be iden­ti­fied only through DNA test­ing, Hus­sain said.

The suf­fer­ing was com­pounded by the lack of a burn unit in the district hospi­tal. The near­est such fa­cil­ity is nearly 100 miles away in the city of Mul­tan, in south­ern Pun­jab.

Of­fi­cials with the Pak­istan Oil and Gas Reg­u­la­tory Au­thor­ity said the truck was en route from Karachi to the Pun­jabi cap­i­tal, La­hore, car­ry­ing more than 10,500 gal­lons of fuel. It over­turned af­ter try­ing to make a sharp turn.

Trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials and high­way po­lice reached the site of the crash and tried to keep peo­ple away but their warn­ings were ig­nored, wit­nesses said.

One man who spoke to The Times by phone from Bahawalpur said he was trav­el­ing along the road by bus when traf­fic stopped for the ac­ci­dent.

“I saw more than 250 peo­ple, in­clud­ing women and chil­dren, gath­ered around the tanker with their pots and buck­ets,” said the man, who did not give his name. “I saw the fire and shouted at peo­ple to run away but no­body lis­tened to me.”

The fire im­me­di­ately en­gulfed scores of peo­ple, leav­ing bod­ies burned and charred be­yond recog­ni­tion, he said.

“It lit­er­ally took sec­onds,” he said.

Mohsin ul Mulk, a cor­re­spon­dent for the Chan­nel 24 TV net­work, de­scribed a grisly scene, with burned mo­tor­cy­cles and cars scat­tered across the high­way along with kitchen uten­sils, pots, wa­ter cool­ers and buck­ets.

Rana Sanaullah, the provin­cial law min­is­ter, said the truck driver had sur­vived and was in cus­tody. Of­fi­cials had launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, he said.

The army sent sol­diers and he­li­copters to evac­u­ate bod­ies. Traf­fic was re­stored af­ter six hours of res­cue op­er­a­tions, of­fi­cials said.

Faisal Ka­reem Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

A PAK­ISTANI sol­dier stands amid the burned ve­hi­cles on the out­skirts of Bahawalpur. Among the mo­tor­cy­cles and cars were uten­sils, pots and buck­ets.

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