An overturned oil tanker burst into flames in Pakistan on Sunday, killing at least 150 people who had rushed to the scene of the highway accident to gather leaking fuel, an official said.
The tragedy came less than a day before Pakistan was due to begin Eid al-Fitr celebrations marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, with many roads crowded as people travel home for the holidays.
The tanker carrying 40,000 litres of fuel overturned on a main highway while travelling from Karachi to Lahore, near the city of Bahawalpur in Punjab province.
TRT World's Kieran Burke reports.
20 children among dead
A large crowd of people gathered, many to collect fuel in containers, and the tanker exploded in a huge fireball about 45 minutes later. Rescue workers said that about 80 people had been injured.
"People of the area and passers by had started gathering fuel when it exploded, burning everybody," provincial government spokesman Malik Muhammad Ahmed Khan said.
An estimated 20 children were among the dead, he said.
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 tanker exploded but people ignored them, Khan said, adding that the initial crash had blocked the road, causing a traffic tailback.
The driver of the tanker survived the accident and was taken into police custody, Khan 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 $3 a day, according to 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.
"According to initial reports, somebody tried to light a cigarette," said rescue services spokesman Jam Sajjad Hussain.
About 40 people with serious burns were airlifted to hospitals in the nearby city of Multan.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed his grief and directed the government of Punjab province to provide "full medical assistance".
The incident came just as Pakistan was reeling from a series of deadly militant attacks across the country on Friday that killed over 70 people.