A tanker truck carrying oil overturned on a highway in Pakistan before bursting into flames, killing at least 152 people who were trying to collect fuel from the leaking vehicle.
Rescue officials said the driver of the truck lost control of the vehicle before it crashed early on June 25 about 100 kilometers southwest of the city of Multan, the country’s fifth-largest city with just over 3.1 million people.
Police tried to cordon off the area after the accident but scores of villagers pushed through to try and gather fuel spilling from the truck when it exploded, Rana Mohammad Saleem Afzal, a senior local government official, told reporters.
"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," Khalil Ahmed, a 57-year-old former government employee who lives in the village, told Reuters.
Video from the accident scene showed plumes of black smoke billowing from the wreckage and images of scores of charred bodies.
Many of the dead were burned beyond recognition, said Dr. Mohammad Baqar, a senior rescue official in the area.
Dozens suffered serious injuries and the death toll could rise, he said.
“I have never seen anything like it in my life. Victims trapped in the fireball. They were screaming for help,” said Abdul Malik, a local police officer who was also among the first to arrive at the scene.
When the fire subsided, “we saw bodies everywhere, so many were just skeletons. The people who were alive were in really bad shape,” he added.
Eyewitnesses said the charred frames of more than two dozen motorcycles used to carry people to the accident site to collect fuel were strewn about the scene, while several other vehicles were also destroyed.
Pakistan’s military said it had sent helicopters to help evacuate the wounded to local hospitals.
Geo TV cited witnesses at the scene as saying some of the people in the area had been smoking, which could have sparked the fire.