MULTAN, Pakistan (AP) – A massive fire caused by a cooking gas stove erupted yesterday on a train travelling in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province, killing at least 71 passengers, officials said.
Flames roared through the train cars as the train approached the town of Liaquatpur in Punjab, they said, the latest tragedy to hit Pakistan’s dilapidated, poorly maintained and mismanaged rail system. Survivors recounted horrific scenes of fellow passengers screaming as they jumped through the windows and off the train. “We could hear people crying and screaming for help,” said Chaudhry Shujaat who boarded the train with his wife and two children.
“I thought we would die. The next car was on fire. We felt so helpless,” he said.
Deputy Commissioner Jamil Ahmed said the fire broke out when a gas stove exploded as breakfast was being prepared on board. He added that the death toll had risen steadily since the early morning.
Kaleem Ullah, an official with the district emergency services, said of the 43 people injured, 11 were still in critical condition.
Several of the injured had jumped off the train – many to their deaths – after the fire broke out and before it eventually screeched to a halt, said Ahmed.
Survivors said it took the train nearly 20 minutes to come to a halt after the fire broke out and passengers began screaming for help. Some pulled at emergency cords that weave through the train to notify the conductor.
Provincial Minister in the Punjab Yasmin Rashid told reporters that the medical staff were providing the best possible treatment for the injured at a hospital in Liaquatpur. Those critically injured were taken by ambulances to the city of Multan, the largest city nearest to the site of the accident.