LAHORE • A tanker crashed and exploded on a road in Pakistan yesterday, killing 146 people, many of whom were collecting leaking fuel before it ignited, government officials and rescue workers said.
The speeding tanker overturned on a sharp bend on a highway on the outskirts of Bahawalpur city, in Punjab province. The driver lost control when the vehicle blew a tyre, a provincial government spokesman said.
A large crowd of people gathered, many to collect fuel in containers, and the tanker exploded in a huge fireball about 45 minutes later.
Rescue workers said that about 100 people had been injured. About 40 people with serious burns were airlifted to hospitals in the nearby city of Multan.
"According to initial reports, somebody tried to light a cigarette," said rescue services spokesman Jam Sajjad Hussain.
The horrific early morning tragedy came as many Pakistanis were making preparations for Eid al-Fitr celebrations marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
The charred wreckage of dozens of 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.
Dozens of villagers and relatives of victims looked on from nearby farmland, many of them weeping.
"What kind of ill-fated day is today?" one woman asked tearfully.
Mr Mohammad Shabbir, another villager, said the driver was shouting for people to stay away as the petrol could ignite at any time, but no one listened. Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah told media the tanker driver had survived the crash and been taken into custody.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed his grief and directed provincial officials to provide "full medical assistance".
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE