A grisly accident involving an exploding oil tanker has left at least 153 people dead in eastern Pakistan, according to officials and media reports say medics fear the death toll could soar past 200.
At least another 120 people suffered severe burn wounds and are receiving treatment at two local hospitals in critical condition, Rescue 1122 Director General Dr. Rizwan Naseer told Geo TV Pakistan.
Army helicopters have been deployed to take the injured to hospital, according to Major General Asif Ghafoor, the official spokesperson of Pakistan’s armed forces.
After the tanker overturned on a highway in Bahawalpur district of Pakistan’s Punjab Province, people in the vicinity rushed to the vehicle to collect fuel.
Video: Moments before the inferno tragedy…
— Danyal Gilani (@DanyalGilani) June 25, 2017
The tanker carrying 40,000 liters of fuel was on way to Lahore from Karachi when the driver lost control and crashed. Nearby villagers rushed toward the overturned tanker with cans to take the leaking fuel, reported local media.
Some were smoking, which reportedly led to the ignition of the gasoline and caused the furious inferno.
In the immediate aftermath of the accident, Pakistan Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif “expressed deep grief over the heavy loss of life.”
“The Prime Minister has directed provincial government to provide full medical assistance to the injured with burns,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s office said. “The Prime Minister has expressed sympathies with the bereaved families and prayed for the departed souls.”
Chief Minister of Punjab Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif has said an inquiry would be held into the incident.
Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, tweeted that the blaze was “a national tragedy of epic proportions.”
He asked local leadership to assess what assistance could be provided to the injured and victims’ families.
Authorities are investigating the cause of the crash. Reports from the scene suggested the truck had been speeding, while some say it was trying to make a sharp turn when it flipped.