At least 153 people were killed and around 140 injured in a fire that broke out after an oil tanker overturned in central Pakistan and crowds rushed to collect the fuel.
The tragedy came one day before Pakistan was due to begin Eid ul-Fitr celebrations marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, with many roads crowded as people travel home for the holidays.
Images of the crash showed rising flames and a thick plume of smoke, along with charred vehicles.
The tanker crashed near the town of Ahmedpur East, 416 miles south of the capital Islamabad.
Some 140 people were wounded, including 40 in critical condition, said Mohammad Baqar, an official with local rescue services, adding that the toll was expected to rise.
The military said it was sending army helicopters to evacuate the wounded and hospitals were put on high alert.
The nearest burn centre is believed to be more than 93 miles away.
Mohammed Salim ran toward the smoke carrying buckets of water and sand but said the heat was too intense to reach those in need.
Abdul Malik, a local police officer also among the first to arrive, described a ‘horrible scene,’ adding: ‘I have never seen anything like it in my life. Victims trapped in the fireball. They were screaming for help.’
He said that when the fire subsided, ‘we saw bodies everywhere, so many were just skeletons. The people who were alive were in really bad shape.’
Many of the victims, who were taken to Bahawalpur’s Victoria Hospital in south Punjab, suffered up to 80 per cent burns.
The hospital declared a state of emergency, called in extra doctors and nurses, and formed a team to handle the emergency within 15 minutes of the fire.
The tanker flipped over on the national highway about 60 miles southwest of Multan. It was driving from the southern port city of Karachi to Lahore, the Punjab provincial capital, when the driver lost control and crashed.
Nearby villagers ran toward the overturned tanker with jerrycans and utensils to take the leaking fuel, Rizwan Naseer, the head of the Punjab province’s rescue services, said. It is thought some of them were smoking cigarettes, which caused the blaze.
A loudspeaker atop a local mosque alerted villagers to the leaking fuel, and scores raced to the site with jerrycans, said Rana Mohammad Salim, deputy commissioner of Bahawalpur.
Highway police moved quickly to redirect traffic but could not stop those who raced to collect the fuel, said a spokesman.