BAHAWALPUR: At least 141 people were burnt to death and scores injured after an oil tanker caught fire in Bahawalpur’s Ahmedpur East town on Sunday morning, officials said.
More than 60 people were reported injured and taken to Bahawal Victoria Hospital and District Headquarters Hospital Sharqia in critical condition, said Rescue 1122 Director General Dr Rizwan Naseer.
Most of those taken to the hospitals got 70% burn injuries, while more deaths are feared.
People in the area had gathered to collect fuel that was leaking from the oil tanker after it toppled over, said the rescue sources.
The victims, mostly from the locality near by, had rushed to the site with utensils to collect oil spilling from the overturned tanker.
Eyewitnesses said some people in the vicinity were smoking cigarettes, which could have ignited the inferno.
Dozens of vehicles, including 75 motorbikes and four cars, were engulfed in the blaze that erupted in Pul Paka near the National Highway, an area located in the middle of the city.
The Pakistan Army said it had sent helicopters to evacuate the wounded and hospitals were put on high alert. The nearest burn centre is believed to be more than 150 kilometres away.
According to rescue sources, identities of the deceased cannot be ascertained without obtaining their DNA sample, as their bodies were badly burnt in the incident.
Although the inferno has been controlled, the road has not been cleared yet. Besides, rescue work was under way as some of the bodies stuck in the wreck were being taken out.
Traffic was suspended on the National Highway route following the incident. However, the motorway police set up two diversions, near Noorpur Nauranga and further ahead of Dera Nawaz, as the highway is frequently used for travel between Bahawalpur and Lahore.
The diversions have been created also because the volume of traffic on the route is likely to increase as people would be using the National Highway to travel to their hometowns for Eid-ul-Fitr that is expected to be celebrated in many parts of Pakistan on Monday (tomorrow).
The injured are likely to be shifted to Nishtar Hospital in Multan as facilities close to the accident site are not equipped enough to treat patients with critical burn injuries. Although Bahawal Victoria Hospital is functional in the area since the early 1900s, it lacks a burnt centre to date.
However, it has been learnt that a burn unit is present in Sheikh Zayed Medical College and Hospital, where 10 patients with burn injuries can be treated. It is located at a distance of 150 kilometres from Ahmedpur Sharqia (East). Besides, an emergency has been imposed in District Headquarters Hospital Lodhran.
When contacted, Government of Punjab Spokesperson Malik Ahmed Khan said injured persons who cannot be accommodated at the hospitals in Bahawalpur and Multan would be sent to other facilities. He added to avoid delays in their medical treatment Punjab chief minister’s helicopters have been dispatched to the area. Moreover, he said, rescue staff has also been sought from the adjoining tehsils.
‘A national tragedy’
On social media, users posted messages of grief and solidarity with the victims of the oil tanker crash, as many prayed for a safe Eid.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed his grief and directed the government of Punjab province to provide “full medical assistance”.
Inter Services Public Relations Director General Major General Asif Ghafoor has expressed grief over the loss of lives in the incident, ensuring help in the rescue efforts.
Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif has also condemned the incident and demanded the authorities concerned to provide the relevant report. He has directed all the MPAs of southern Punjab to participate in the rescue operation.
Later in the morning, Pakistan Army troops reached the incident site, according to an ISPR statement. They took the injured persons on board in their helicopters to fly them to Combined Military Hospitals in Multan and Bahawalpur.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairperson has also condemned the incident, tweeting that he has asked the leadership present in the area to provide immediate assistance to the injured and victims’ families.
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 Karachi in 2015 when their bus collided with an oil tanker, starting a fierce blaze that left victims burnt beyond recognition.