At least 74 people were killed and dozens injured after cooking gas cylinders exploded on a train packed with pilgrims in Pakistan on Thursday, some dying after leaping from carriages to escape the inferno, authorities said.
Television footage showed flames pouring out of three carriages as people could be heard crying during the incident, in a rural area of central Punjab province.
Some of the passengers — many of whom were pilgrims travelling to one of Pakistan’s biggest religious gatherings — had been cooking breakfast when two of their gas cylinders exploded, Ali Nawaz, a senior Pakistan Railways official, told AFP.
Many Pakistanis carry food on long train journeys, but gas cylinders are supposedly banned. Pakistan’s railways minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed later told reporters that it had been a “mistake” to allow the cylinders on board.
Dozens of people crowded along the tracks staring at the burning carriages, which had been disconnected from the rest of the train, television images showed.
Firefighters rushed to the scene near Rahim Yar Khan district. Rescue workers and soldiers could also be seen, as bodies were carried away covered in white sheets.
“A cylinder exploded and I don’t know how, fire erupted everywhere,” one survivor, Muhammad Imran, told AFP from a hospital in Rahim Yar Khan.
“I jumped out of the train to save my life. There was a whole line of people behind me, they pushed,” he said.
Muhammad Nadeem Zia, a medical superintendent at the hospital in Liaquatpur, the nearest town, told AFP some of the victims were killed by head injuries sustained as they leapt from the moving train. He said at least 44 people had been injured.
Those hurt were being rushed to hospitals in the nearby city of Bahawalpur and elsewhere in Rahim Yar Khan district. Officials said many of the bodies were charred beyond recognition.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was “deeply saddened” by the tragedy and had ordered an urgent inquiry.