Over 150 die af­ter tanker truck over­turns, ex­plodes near mosque

Of­fi­cial: ‘I have never seen any­thing like it in my life’

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY IRAM ASIM

BAHAWALPUR, PAK­ISTAN | Alerted by an an­nounce­ment over a mosque’s loud­speaker that an over­turned tanker truck had sprung a leak, scores of vil­lagers raced to the scene with fuel con­tain­ers Sun­day to gather the oil.

Then the wreck ex­ploded, en­gulf­ing peo­ple in flames as they screamed in ter­ror.

At least 153 men, women and chil­dren were killed, with dozens more in crit­i­cal con­di­tion, hospi­tal and res­cue of­fi­cials said.

“I have never seen any­thing like it in my life. Vic­tims trapped in the fire­ball. They were scream­ing for help,” said Ab­dul Ma­lik, a po­lice of­fi­cer who was among the first to ar­rive on the scene of hor­ror in Pak­istan’s Pun­jab Prov­ince.

When the flames sub­sided, Of­fi­cer Ma­lik said, “we saw bod­ies ev­ery­where. So many were just skele­tons. The peo­ple who were alive were in re­ally bad shape.”

About 30 mo­tor­cy­cles that vil­lagers had used to rush to the site of the high­way ac­ci­dent lay charred nearby along with cars, wit­nesses said. Lo­cal news chan­nels showed black smoke bil­low­ing sky­ward and army he­li­copters tak­ing away the in­jured.

As vic­tims cried out for help, res­i­dents wan­dered through the area, look­ing for loved ones.

Zulkha Bibi searched 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.

Many of the dead were burned be­yond recog­ni­tion, said Dr. Mo­ham­mad Baqar, a se­nior res­cue of­fi­cial in the area. They will have to be iden­ti­fied through DNA.

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 fuel truck was trav­el­ing from the south­ern port city of Karachi to La­hore, the Pun­jab provin­cial cap­i­tal, when the driver lost con­trol and crashed on a high­way out­side Bahawalpur.

A loud­speaker atop a mosque alerted vil­lagers to the leak­ing fuel, and many rushed to the scene with fuel con­tain­ers, said Rana Mo­ham­mad Salim, deputy com­mis­sioner of Bahawalpur.

High­way po­lice moved quickly to re­di­rect traf­fic but couldn’t stop the scores of vil­lagers, 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.

Mr. Salim said he ran to­ward the smoke with buck­ets of wa­ter and sand, but the heat was too in­tense for him to reach the vic­tims.

“I could hear peo­ple scream­ing, but I couldn’t get to them,” Mr. Salim said.

Dr. Javed Iqbal at Bahawalpur’s Victoria Hospi­tal said most of the pa­tients suf­fered burns to up­ward of 80 per­cent of their bod­ies. Many were evac­u­ated by plane or he­li­copter to hos­pi­tals in the Pun­jab cities of La­hore and Mul­tan.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pak­istan army sol­diers stands guard while res­cue work­ers ex­am­ine the site of an oil tanker ex­plo­sion near Bahawalpur, Pak­istan, on Sun­day. An over­turned oil tanker burst into flames killing more than 100 who had rushed to the ac­ci­dent.

Hospi­tal staff trans­port a vic­tim at a hospi­tal in Mul­tan, Pak­istan. The tragedy came on the eve of Eid al-Fitr.

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