MULTAN (Pakistan): A massive fire suspected to be caused by a cooking gas stove erupted on Thursday on a train travelling in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province, killing at least 65 passengers, officials said.
The accident happened on Tezgam Express, which was en route from Karachi to Rawalpindi.
District Police Officer Rahim Yar Khan Ameer Taimoor Khan confirmed the death toll while speaking to a Pakistani news channel.
“Two cooking stoves blew up. They were cooking, they had (cooking) oil which added fuel to fire“, said Pakistan’s Railway Minister Sheikh Rasheed while speaking to local media.
However, some eye-witness accounts refute the contention:
Tablighi Jamaat eye witness on Tezgam contradicts claim of Sheikh Rasheed that Tablighi Jamaat members were responsible for the fire. Says fire caused by short circuit and safety system of the train was completely dysfunctional. pic.twitter.com/cbQzoG9UOE
— Murtaza Ali Shah (@MurtazaViews) October 31, 2019
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.
Deputy Commissioner Jamil Ahmed said the death toll had risen steadily since the early morning. The fire broke out when a gas stove exploded as breakfast was being prepared on board, he added.
Several of the injured had jumped off the train — many to their deaths — after the fire broke out, said Ahmed. The train eventually screeched to a halt.
People jumped from the moving carriages to save themselves, says an eyewitness in Rahim Yar Khan. pic.twitter.com/ItLkwhUbPj
— Naila Inayat नायला इनायत (@nailainayat) October 31, 2019
Poor passengers often bring their own small gas stoves on the trains to cook their meals, despite rules to the contrary, according to Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed. Safety regulations are often ignored in the overcrowded trains.
Pakistan’s military said troops were also participating in the rescue operation. President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan issued statements expressing grief over the tragedy.
Train accidents in Pakistan are often the result of poor railway infrastructure and official negligence. Media reports on Thursday suggest that railways officials did not notice when passengers boarded the train, carrying individual gas stoves.