At least 146 people were killed and more than a hundred others injured after a fuel truck crashed and exploded in Pakistan on Sunday.
Many of the victims were collecting leaking fuel before it ignited, Reuters reports, citing government officials and rescue workers.
The truck was traveling on a highway around 480 kilometers (300 miles) south-southwest of the capital Islamabad when it flipped over, spilling its contents, the Wall Street Journal said, citing police.
It was carrying thousands of gallons of gasoline north from the southern port city of Karachi, the newspaper said.
The driver lost control when the vehicle blew a tire, Reuters said, citing a provincial government spokesman.
A large crowd of people gathered, many to collect fuel in containers, and the truck exploded in a huge fireball about 45 minutes later.
“People of the area and passers by had started gathering fuel when it exploded, burning everybody,” provincial government spokesman Malik Muhammad Ahmed Khan told Reuters.
An estimated 20 children were among the dead, he said.
The accident happened the day before Pakistan celebrates the Eid al-Fitr festival, when families get together to celebrate the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
Many bodies were burned beyond recognition and television pictures showed piles of burnt out motorcycles, apparently those of people who were collecting fuel or watching events unfold.
Police had tried to clear the area before the truck exploded but people ignored them, Khan said, adding that the initial crash had blocked the road, causing a traffic tailback.
The truck driver survived the accident and was taken into police custody, he said.
The explosion took place on a stretch of highway cutting through the village of Ramzan Joya.
Khalil Ahmed, a 57-year-old former government employee who lives in the village, said he had lost 12 relatives in the fire, which firefighters extinguished in two hours.
“One body has been recovered and 11 others are still missing,” Ahmed said.
“After the spill, people began calling their relatives to come and gather the oil, and some showed up from nearby villages as well. There must have been 500 people gathered when the fire began.”
Oil is a precious commodity for villagers in Pakistan, where more than 60 percent of the population survives on US$3 a day, the news agency said, citing a World Bank survey.
“People were collecting oil in bottles, cans and household utensils. We tried to get them to move back before the fire started but no one was listening,” Ahmed said.
The accident forced Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to cut short a private visit to Britain, the Journal said, adding that he was expected to return to Pakistan Sunday night.
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