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. An announcement over a mosque's loudspeaker that an overturned tanker truck had sprung a leak sent scores of villagers racing to the scene to gather spilled fuel.
At least 153 men, women and children were killed, with dozens more in critical condition, hospital and rescue officials said.
Dozens of relatives were waiting outside hospitals in Bahawalpur, the nearest major city, to claim the bodies of their loved ones as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrived early Monday.
The disaster came on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
Muhammad Hanif, 40, who suffered burns, told reporters at the Victoria Hospital that he was present at his house when his cousin called him informing that the village people were rushing to the highway to collect "free oil".
Army helicopters were dispatched to ferry casualties to hospitals, army spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said in a tweet. Those caught up in the explosion included people who were watching what was happening.
More than 150 people, many of them collecting fuel leaking from an oil tanker that crashed in eastern Pakistan on Sunday, were killed when the truck exploded and spread a wall of fire across the road. However, further probe into the incident is still underway, he said.More news: Why Investors remained confident on Oracle Corporation (ORCL), General Electric Company (GE)?
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"One body has been recovered and 11 others are still missing", Ahmed said. There must have been 500 people gathered when the fire began.
Officers with the National Highways and Motorway Police urged villagers to stay away from the vehicle, but to no avail, police sources told APP. "People were collecting oil in bottles, cans and household utensils", Khalil said.
Witnesses described seeing the charred ruins of up to 30 motorbikes that had carried residents to the crash site.
Mohammed Salim ran toward the smoke carrying buckets of water and sand, but said the heat was too intense to reach those in need. "We tried to get them to move back but no one was listening", Ahmed said.
Oil is a precious commodity for villagers in Pakistan, where more than 60% of the population survives on $3 a day, according to a World Bank survey.
Prime Minister Sharif visited the injured in Bahawalpur's Victoria Hospital on Sunday after flying home from a trip to London, his office said.