BAHAWALPUR, Pakistan (AP) – An overturned oil tanker burst into flames in Pakistan on Sunday, killing 129 people who had rushed to the scene of the highway accident to gather leaking fuel, an official said.
Some 140 people were wounded, including 40 in critical condition, said Mohammad Baqar, an official with local rescue services, adding that the toll was expected to rise.
Local news channels showed black smoke billowing skyward and horrific images of scores of burned bodies, as well as rescue officials speeding the injured to hospital and army helicopters ferrying the wounded.
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 celebrate on Monday.
The tanker was driving from the southern port city of Karachi to Lahore, the Punjab provincial capital, when the driver lost control and crashed on the national highway outside Bahawalpur.
A loudspeaker atop a local mosque alerted villagers to the leaking fuel, and scores raced to the site with jerry cans, said Rana Mohammad Salim, deputy commissioner of Bahawalpur. Highway police moved quickly to redirect traffic but couldn’t stop the scores of villagers who raced to collect the fuel, spokesman Imran Shah told a local TV channel.
Eyewitnesses said about 30 motorcycles that had carried villagers to the accident site lay charred nearby. Eight other vehicles were destroyed, they said.
Many of the bodies were burned beyond recognition and will have to be identified through DNA testing, said Baqar. Some of the most badly burned were evacuated by army helicopters to Multan, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) away. The dead included men, women and children.