Overturned vehicle explodes into flames killing petrol collecting villagers; Charred bodies beyond recognition; Seriously injured shifted to Multan, Bahawalpur hospitals; Six cars, 75 motorcycles destroyed
At least 150 people were charred to death and over 200 others injured after an oil tanker overturned and burst into flames as crowds rushed to collect petrol that spilled out to a highway in Ahmadpur Sharqia, near Bahawalpur on Sunday.
The police sources say that oil tanker carrying 50,000 litres of oil was on its way from Karachi to Lahore when overturned after trying to make a sharp turn in Kachi Pul area, some eight kilometers off Ahmedpur Sharqia city. Some people said the tanker overturned after its tyre burst.
The fire was apparently caused by someone who lit a cigarette after people from nearby localities gathered on the highway to collect spilt petrol, officials said. The blaze from the oil spill engulfed scores of residents, killing 150 people and injuring over 200 others. It is also reported to have exploded after fuel leaking from its damaged container caught fire.
District Coordination Officer Bahwalpur Rana Salim Afzal termed it a “huge tragedy” in the history of Pakistan.
“At least 123 people were killed before getting any medical help while the rescue officials shifted more than 100 injured to the district headquarters hospital and Victoria Hospital in Bahawalpur where the condition of most of them is critical,” Afzal said.
He said women and children are among the victims.
Rescue 1122 official Jam Sajjad said 150 people were killed in the fire and the toll may rise further as a number of injured are in critical condition.
He said most of the dead bodies are completely charred and they will be identified only by DNA test.
The rescue 1122 and other ambulance services rushed to the scene to shift the injured to hospital and more 60 injured succumbed to their burn injuries on the way to hospital. According to reports, Ahmedpur Sharqia Health Center and Bahawal Victoria Hospital have no burn wards while the injured have suffered burn injuries on 80 percent part of their bodies.
At least six cars and 75 motorcycles were burnt in the blaze. The charred wreckage of the 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.
Emergency was declared at all hospitals and rescue efforts went underway to shift the injured to Victoria Hospital, Bahawalpur, Combined Military Hospital, Bahawalpur, Nishtar Hospital in Mulan and Burn centre, Multan.
Dr. Rizwan Naseer, director of Punjab provincial rescue services, said many of the badly burnt bodies are beyond recognition.
Muhammad Hanif, 40, who suffered burns, told reporters at Victoria Hospital that he was present at his house when his cousin called him informing that the village people were rushing to the highway to collect “free oil”.
“My cousin told me to pick bottles and come out of the house. When I came out of the house I saw many people rushing towards the highway and some going there by motorcycles. Me and my cousin Rashid reached the highway and joined the people busy in collecting the petrol spilling from the tanker. Suddenly the tanker burst and the people gathered near it were burnt alive. Rashid and I were a little away from the tanker therefore we are alive,” Hanif said.
He said it was “greed” of the villagers which took them to the “valley of death”.
The Punjab government said three helicopters are shifting the critically burnt people to Multan’s combined military hospital and Nishtar Hospital for providing better health facilities.
“The people from nearby village Ramzanpur Joya had also gathered there. The police personnel asked them to leave the place but they started collecting petrol. Suddenly the tanker exploded and within seconds the fire erupted giving no chance to the people present there to leave the place,” Rifat said. Dozens of motorcycles and cars were also burnt at the site.
“Most people reached the site on motorcycles to collect spilling petrol,” he said.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif directed the authorities to ensure best medical treatment to the injured. He also sent his chopper for shifting the injured to Multan hospitals.
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.
President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were shocked over the incident and directed government officials to help the victims in every possible way.
PM Nawaz expressed his grief and directed the government of Punjab to provide “full medical assistance”.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has 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.
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.