Bhawalpur, Pakistan (BBN)– At least 140 people were burnt to death when an oil tanker caught fire at Ahmedpur Sharqia in Bahawalpur on Sunday morning.
Around 40 people were reported injured and taken to Bahawal Victoria Hospital and District Headquarters Hospital Sharqia in critical condition, Geo News reported quoting Rescue 1122 Director General Dr Rizwan Naseer as saying.
Most of those taken to the hospitals got 70 per cent burn injuries, while more deaths are feared.
Bahawalpur is a city located in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Bahawalpur is the 12th largest city in Pakistan with an estimated population of 798,509.
The city also lies near the ancient Derawar Fort in the Cholistan Desert near the border with India, and serves as the gateway to Pakistan’s Lal Suhanra National Park.
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 nearby, 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.
Most of the affected people were residents of the locality nearby, while others were passing by on the route.
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.
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.
Besides, an emergency has been imposed in District Headquarters Hospital Lodhran.
When contacted, Government of Punjab Spokesperson Malik Ahmed Khan told Geo News that 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.
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.
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.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has also expressed sorrow over the tragedy.
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.