An oil explosion resulted in the death of 157 people, 20 children among them, in the northeast of Pakistan following an announcement over a mosque’s loudspeaker that acknowledged the presence of a tanker with an oil leak.
The oil tanker carrying 25,000 litres of gasoline had been speeding when the driver lost control blowing the tire. The vehicle heading towards Lahore from Karachi overturned on the national highway near Ahmedpur Sharqia in Bahawalpur located around 430 kilometres from Lahore catching the attention of the nearby mosque.
As oil is a valuable commodity in Pakistan, around 500 villagers including men, women and children of the Bahawalpur district rushed with bottles, containers, and utensils to collect the leaking oil from the tanker, unaware of the danger they would be facing.
The explosion was caused when a villager tried to light a cigarette causing the oil to ignite leaving the villagers in flames. After realising the severity, another announcement was made on the mosque’s loudspeaker asking rest of the villagers for help. However, the heat was too intense and spread out.
By the time the rescue team had arrived, smoke had begun rising to the sky and the explosion had already started to reach the village of Ramzan Joya from the highway. Army helicopters managed to rescue 40 people with serious burns to hospitals in Lahore and Multan. A spokesman Imran Shah told local news that the police were trying to redirect the traffic asking the villagers to stay away from the location but were unsuccessful leading to a blocked road.
75 burnt out motorcycles and 6 other automobiles presumably of the villagers were also found as a result of the explosion with 30 of the burnt motorcycles lying on the highway. Dr. Javed Iqbal from Victoria Hospital at Bahawalpur informed that most of the villagers had burns on at least 70-80 percent of their bodies. A senior rescue official Dr. Mohammad Baqar in that area notified that many of the dead were burned beyond recognition. ‘They will be identified through DNA,’ he said.
The fire which resulted in over 100 injured people and arouwas extinguished in two hours by the fire extinguishers. The truck driver who had survived the explosion was later arrested by the police.
As a sign of solidarity, all Eid related celebrations were cancelled by the federal and all four provincial governments. The villagers spend the day of the festival either searching or burying their loved ones.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who had been in London to attend his grandson’s graduation rushed back for the villager’s aid and announced a compensation package of Pakistani Rs (PKR) 2,000,000 for the relatives of each killed and PKR 1,000,000 for every injured villager.
This wasn’t the first death toll experienced in the country around the time. 62 people were killed and 100 were injured just two days before this incident as a result of bomb and gun attacks in three major cities.