An overturned oil tanker has burst into flames in Pakistan after a person tried to light a cigarette nearby, killing at least 123 people who had rushed to the scene of the highway accident to gather leaking fuel, officials said.
The tanker overturned after trying to make a sharp turn on the national highway on the outskirts of the city of Bahawalpur, about 100 kilometers southwest of Multan. The driver lost control when the vehicle blew a tire, a provincial government spokesman said.
The tanker was driving from the southern port city of Karachi to Lahore, the Punjab provincial capital, when the driver lost control and crashed.
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 about 80 people had been injured.
“People of the area and passersby had started gathering fuel when the tanker exploded, burning everybody on and around the spot,” provincial government spokesman Malik Muhammad Ahmed Khan said.
An estimated 20 children were among the dead, he said.
The accident happened the day before Pakistan celebrates the Eid al-Fitr festival, when families get together to celebrate the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
Many bodies were burned beyond recognition and television pictures showed piles of burnt out motorbikes, apparently those of people who arrived to collect fuel or just to have a look.
Police had tried to clear the area before the explosion but people ignored them, Khan said, adding that the initial crash had blocked the road causing a back-up of traffic.
Imran Shah, a spokesman for the highway police, told a local TV channel police moved quickly to redirect traffic but could not stop the scores of villagers who raced to collect the fuel.
Residents were told of the leaking fuel over a loudspeaker atop the local mosque, deputy commissioner of Bahawalpur, Rana Mohammad Salim, said.
Eyewitnesses said about 30 motorcycles that had carried villagers to the accident site lay in charred ruins nearby.
Eight other vehicles were destroyed, they said.
“According to initial reports, somebody tried to light a cigarette,” said a spokesman for the rescue services, Jam Sajjad Hussain.
Firefighters took two hours to douse the flames.
About 40 people with serious burns were airlifted to hospitals in the nearby city of Multan.