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157 Dead in Pakistan Fuel Truck Fire   06/26 06:09

   MULTAN, Pakistan (AP) -- Pakistan's prime minister cut short a trip abroad 
to rush to the side of victims of a massive fuel tanker fire as authorities on 
Monday raised the death toll from the blaze to 157.

   The truck, carrying some 25,000 liters (6,600 gallons) of gasoline, was 
traveling from the southern port city of Karachi to Lahore, the Punjab 
provincial capital, when the driver lost control and crashed on a highway 
outside the town of Bahawalpur early on Sunday.

   Alerted by an announcement over a mosque loudspeaker that an overturned 
tanker truck was leaking fuel, scores of villagers rushed to the scene to 
collect the spilled fuel when the blaze ignited. The wreck had exploded, 
engulfing people in flames as they screamed in terror.

   Dr. Nahid Ahmed at the Nishter Hospital in the city of Multan, about 100 
kilometers (60 miles) away from the site of the fire, said four of the victims 
that were brought from Bahawalpur had died overnight, bringing the death toll 
to 157. Ahmed said 50 more severely burned victims were being treated at his 
hospital.

   Rescue official Mohammad Baqar at the Bahawalpur hospital said 20 more 
victims were transported on Monday by a military C-130 plane to Lahore for 
better medical care.

   Prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who visited the Victoria Hospital in Bahawalpur 
on Monday, ordered that more of those most critically hurt be transferred to 
bigger hospitals in the area, Baqar said.

   Sharif cut short his trip abroad and rushed back home, reaching Bahwalpur on 
Monday to visit the victims and console the affected families. Sharif also 
announced 2 million rupees --- almost $20,000 --- as financial assistance for 
each family that had lost a family member in the highway inferno. Sharif also 
handed over checks of 1 million rupees ($10,000) for each burned victim being 
treated at the hospital in Bahawalpur.

   "This is not compensation, no compensation is possible for precious human 
life, but it is to help the affected families in distress," Sharif said, 
expressing his prayers for those killed and for a speedy recovery of the burned 
victims.

   Many of the bodies were burned beyond recognition and will have to be 
identified through DNA testing, said Baqar.

   "I have never seen anything like it in my life. Victims trapped in the 
fireball. They were screaming for help," said Abdul Malik, a police officer who 
was among the first to arrive on the scene of horror in Pakistan's Punjab 
province.

   When the flames subsided, he said, "we saw bodies everywhere. So many were 
just skeletons. The people who were alive were in really bad shape."

   Some of the most badly burned were immediately evacuated by army helicopters 
to Multan. The dead included men, women and children.

   The disaster struck on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr that 
follows the holy month of Ramadan. While Saudi Arabia and most other Muslim 
countries started celebrating the holiday Sunday, Pakistanis are marking it on 
Monday.

   The scope of Sunday's tragedy was a first in Pakistan but in cases of 
massive oil leaks in impoverished countries, many of the poorest and least 
educated often rush to the scene to collect the spilled fuel, unaware of the 
grave danger they face. In recent years, such incidents have been reported in 
Nigeria and Sudan.


(KA)

 
 
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