At least 71 killed in Pakistan train fire after cooking accident

Published 31.10.2019 08:51
Updated 31.10.2019 16:04
Rescue workers walk past  a train damaged by a fire in Liaquatpur, Pakistan, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. (AFP Photo)
Rescue workers walk past a train damaged by a fire in Liaquatpur, Pakistan, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. (AFP Photo)

A fire swept through a Pakistani train on Thursday killing at least 71 people after a gas canister passengers were using to cook breakfast exploded.

Flames roared through the train cars as the train approached the town of Liaquatpur in Punjab, officials said, the latest tragedy to hit Pakistan's dilapidated, poorly maintained and mismanaged rail system.

Deputy Commissioner Jamil Ahmed said the death toll had risen steadily since the early morning.

"Two cooking stoves blew up. They were cooking, they had (cooking) oil which added fuel to fire," Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told Geo television earlier. "Most deaths occurred from people jumping off the train," he added. The train eventually screeched to a halt.

Poor passengers often bring their own small gas stoves on the trains to cook their meals, despite rules to the contrary, according to Ahmed. Safety regulations are often ignored in the overcrowded trains.

Through the morning hours, rescue workers and inspectors sifted through the charred wreckage, looking for survivors and aiding the injured. Local Pakistani TV footage from the scene showed a huge blaze raging as firefighters struggled to get it under control.

Authorities said they were still trying to identify the victims and that the lists of fatalities and those injured were not ready yet. Another train has been dispatched to bring the survivors to the city of Rawalpindi, they said.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered an inquiry to find out who was at fault in allowing a fuel cylinder on the train.

"Deeply saddened by the terrible tragedy... My condolences go to the victim's families & prayers for the speedy recovery of the injured," Prime Minister Khan tweeted. "I have ordered an immediate inquiry to be completed on an urgent basis."

Meanwhile, opposition leaders called for the resignation of the railways minister in the aftermath of the accident.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing "deep sorrow" over the accident and loss of lives.

"We wish Allah's mercy upon those who have lost their lives in this tragic accident, speedy recovery to those who were injured, and convey our condolences to the friendly Government and the brotherly people of Pakistan," the statement said.

Khan said the train was the Tezgam, one of Pakistan's oldest and most popular rail services, which runs between the southern port city of Karachi to the garrison city of Rawalpindi, next to Islamabad. But the railways official Nawaz said it had been diverted to facilitate religious pilgrims travelling to Lahore. The majority of those killed were pilgrims from southern Sindh province, Ali Nawaz, a senior Pakistan Railways official said. Nawaz said two of the carriages were economy coaches, while one was business class, and that up to 88 passengers can fit into each carriage.

"A tragedy that could have been avoided but ever since I can recall while travelling by train no baggage check or restrictions enforced," Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari tweeted.

Pakistan's colonial-era railway network has fallen into disrepair in recent decades due to chronic underinvestment and poor maintenance.

Eleven people were killed in an accident in July and four in another accident in September.

About 130 people were killed in 2005 when a train rammed into another at a station in Sindh province, and a third train hit the wreckage.

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