At least 70 people have died and dozens have been injured after a fire broke out on a passenger train in Pakistan.
Footage showed three of the train carriages engulfed by flames, with dark smoke pouring out of the windows, and there were reports from witnesses of trapped passengers heard crying and screaming.
However, according to Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, most deaths occurred from passengers throwing themselves from the moving train to escape the fire.
Ahmed said the incident was caused by the explosion of a gas canister as passengers were cooking breakfast on a stove in the train on Thursday morning. It is illegal for a passenger to bring gas canisters on trains but the rules are frequently flouted.
The incident took place on a train known as the Tezgam Express, which travels between the cities of Karachi and Rawalpindi, as it was crossing through Punjab province.
The Assistant Commissioner of the nearby city of Multan, Mansoor Ahmed, confirmed that the death toll was 70 so far, with 30 injured, many in a critical condition. Nine victims were airlifted to the Burns Unit at Multan District Hospital. On Thursday afternoon, rescue workers and officials began sifting through the charred wreckage for victims.
The local hospitals struggled to cope with the scale of the tragedy. Ahmed confirmed that the nearby Rahim Yar Khan District Hospital ran out of space for the number of bodies so several had to be taken to Multan District Hospital, some three hours away.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted: “Deeply saddened by the terrible tragedy of the Tezgam train. My condolences go to the victims’ families and prayers for the speedy recovery of the injured. I have ordered an immediate inquiry to be completed on an urgent basis.”
Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where the railways have seen decades of decline due to corruption, mismanagement and lack of investment. Overcrowding is also a frequent safety issue.
In July, at least 23 people were killed in the same district when a passenger train coming from the eastern city of Lahore rammed into a goods train that had stopped at a crossing.