Pakistani soldiers examine the oil tanker accident site in eastern Pakistan's Bawahalpur, on June 25, 2017. At least 140 people were killed and over 120 others injured in an oil tanker fire that happened in the Pakistan's eastern Punjab province on Sunday morning, said a local parliamentarian.(Xinhua/Stringer)
ISLAMABAD, June 25 (Xinhua) -- At least 143 people were killed and 156 others injured in an oil tanker fire that broke out in Bahawalpur district of Pakistan's eastern Punjab Province on Sunday morning, officials said.
Javaid Iqbal, a medic at the Victoria Hospital Bahawalpur, said that the death toll has risen to 143 after three of the injured shifted to a burn center in another district of Multan succumbed to injuries during treatment.
Iqbal feared that the death toll might further rise as over 20 of the injured are still in critical condition at the burn centers at different hospitals.
According to some official sources, currently 108 injured are present in Victoria Hospital, 31 in Nishtar Hospital in Multan and 17 in a military hospital in Bahawalpur.
A total of 75 motorbikes and six vehicles including a traffic police vehicle were burnt out in the fire, said police. The site was littered with numerous bodies burned beyond recognition, said eyewitnesses.
According to police, the tragic incident took place at 6:23 a.m. local time when an oil tanker fully packed with around 50,000 liters of petrol skidded off the road after tire burst on a highway in Ahmad Pur Sharqia, a small town about 400 km southwest of Lahore, capital city of Punjab Province.
The fire broke out after many people from nearby villages came in motorbikes to collect the oil spilled out from the capsized oil tanker.
An eyewitness said that soon after the tanker skidded off the road, local people from nearby villages rushed to the site and later on also telephoned other people to collect the petrol.
Some local elders and a policeman had been asking the people not to collect the oil and run away because of the possible threat, but people did not listen to them, the eyewitness added.
Imran Shah, spokesman of Pakistan Motorway Police, said that initial investigation suggested that the fire broke out after someone on the spot lit a cigarette. Further probe into the incident is underway, he said.
"Soon after the incident, our teams responded. We turned the traffic to some other roads, and we tried to stop the crowd, but they were in hundreds and did not listen to us, so we were helpless," said Shah.
Three fire engines were dispatched to the site following the report of the oil tanker fire, said local fire department officials, adding that it took them hours to put off the fire completely.
Soon after the incident, dozens of ambulances rushed to the site and shifted the bodies and injured to the hospitals.
Four helicopters were used to airlift the critically injured people to the hospitals in other cities due to the lack of doctors and facilities for burn injuries in the local hospitals. Later on, a C-130 airplane of Pakistan air force was used to shift the highly critically injured to Islamabad.
Both Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed deep sorrow over the loss of so many precious lives in the incident on the eve of Eidul-Fitr, a Muslim festival observed at the end of holy fasting month of Ramadan.
The prime minister, who was in London on his private trip, also instructed all the concerned authorities to provide the best available medical treatment to the victims.
By observing seriousness of the incident, Sharif who was scheduled to return home on June 30 cut short his London trip and decided to return on Sunday night.
"Winding up his engagements in London, the PM has decided to immediately return back to country because terror attacks on Friday and oil tanker fire tragedy have grieved the nation immensely," said a statement from Prime Minister Office.
Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of Punjab Province, has announced a compensation package of 2 million rupees (19,100 U.S. dollars) for each of the killed and 1 million rupees (9,550 U.S. dollars) for each of the injured.
A forensic team has also reached Victoria Hospital to conduct DNA test of the bodies for recognition.