On Sunday, a shocking series of events in the city of Bahawalpur in Pakistan left more than 150 people dead.
An announcement over a mosque’s loudspeaker stated that an overturned fuel tanker had sprung a leak, so dozens of villagers quickly grabbed fuel containers and raced to the scene to gather the oil. But tragedy was to follow, because that’s when the wreck exploded.
People became engulfed in flames, screaming in terror. Tragically, at least 153 men, women, and children were killed at the scene, and dozens more are in critical condition. Spectators said that victims were “trapped in the fireball,” according to Perth Now.
Abdul Malik, a police officer and one of the first to arrive on the scene of horror in Pakistan’s Punjab province, described the tragic scene as something he had “never seen” in his life.
“Victims trapped in the fireball. They were screaming for help. When the flames subsided, we saw bodies everywhere. So many were just skeletons. The people who were alive were in really bad shape.”
Witnesses said that the motorcycles and cars used by the villagers to rush to the site of the accident lay charred nearby.
Victims cried out for help, while others like Zulkha Bibi wandered through the horror scene looking for their loved ones. Zulkha was searching for her two sons.
“Someone should tell me about my beloved sons. Where are they? Are they alive or are they no longer in this world? Please tell me.”
Dr. Mohammed Baqar is a senior rescue official from the area. He said that many of the dead were burned beyond recognition and will have to be identified through DNA.
Disaster struck in the city of Bahawalpur on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. The driver of the fuel truck lost control when he was traveling from the southern port city of Karachi to Lahore, the Punjab provincial capital, and crashed on the highway outside Bahawalpur.
According to the deputy commissioner of Bahawalpur, Mohammad Salim, villagers were alerted to the leaking fuel via a loudspeaker on top of a mosque, so scores of people grabbed fuel containers and rushed to the overturned tanker. Highway police were quickly on the scene but struggled to redirect traffic while scores of villagers rushed to gather the oil. And then the fire erupted, so amidst all the panic and devastation, remaining villagers were called to help put it out.
The footage below shows the blast as it happened. Be warned that the video contains disturbing footage of the explosion.
Mohammed Salim said he grabbed buckets of water and sand and raced toward the smoke, but the heat was just too intense for him to reach the victims.
“I could hear people screaming, but I couldn’t get to them.”
Dr. Javed Iqbal at Bahawalpur’s Victoria Hospital said most of the patients suffered burns to around 80 percent of their bodies. Many were evacuated by plane or helicopter to hospitals in the Punjab cities of Multan and Lahore.
Reuters reported that, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif heard of the tragedy, he flew home from an overseas trip to visit the burn victims. According to his daughter, Maryam, Sharif had been in London to attend his grandson’s graduation ceremony.
On Monday, Pakistani hospitals struggled to treat the scores of severely burned victims.
The horrifying fire was just one of several events to mar the run-up to Monday’s Eid al-Fitr holiday. On Friday, at least 65 people were killed in bombings in two cities. Islamist militants, including the Pakistani Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, claimed responsibility for the bombings.
As for the fuel tanker, provincial spokesman Malik Muhammed Ahmed Khan said that a burst tire caused the speeding fuel tanker to overturn on a sharp bend on a highway on the outskirts of the city of Bahawalpur. As for the following fireball, it’s believed that someone lit a cigarette and triggered the explosion.
“Rehabilitation and treatment of the victims is our top priority.”
Sadly, at least 20 children are among the dead, and hospitals are arranging DNA testing to identify many bodies which were charred beyond recognition.
Khan said that, because the government hospitals in Bahawalpur and Multan were only set up to handle small numbers of patients and are therefore under-equipped, many burn victims have been moved to Karachi and Lahore.
Khan also added that the driver of the oil tanker, who survived the accident, has been detained to assist in the investigation; however, early reports do not indicate human error.
An investigation will now be held to determine why police were not able to disperse the crowds of people who gathered to collect fuel.
“Police did try, but we are looking into what went wrong.”
[Featured Image by Iram Asim/AP Images]