Death toll from Tezgam train fire climbs to 74

Train was travelling from Karachi to Rawalpindi when a gas cylinder exploded

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RAHIM YAR KHAN: At least 74 people were killed and dozens injured on Thursday after cooking gas cylinders exploded near Rahim Yar Khan's Liaqatpur area.

The Tezgam train was on its way from Karachi to Rawalpindi when the gas cylinder carried by a passenger exploded, killing and injuring passengers. The fire destroyed three of the train’s carriages, including two economy class carriages and one business class carriage.

Ali Nawaz, a senior Pakistan Railways official, said some passengers were cooking breakfast when two of their gas cylinders exploded.

Footage from the location showed flames pouring out of three carriages as people could be heard crying during the incident. Some of the victims died after leaping from carriages to escape the inferno, authorities said.

Baqir Hussain, head of the district rescue service, confirmed the death toll. He said the bodies would be identified through DNA, as many of the bodies were charred beyond recognition.

DPO Rahim Yar Khan Ameer Taimoor Khan said the injured were shifted to the District Headquarters Hospital in Liaqatpur and Bahawalpur.

Read also: PM Imran condoles with Tezgam tragedy victims, orders inquiry

Picture of the gas cylinder which caught fire. Photo: Geo News

Railway officials said there were more than 200 passengers travelling in the three carriages. 

At least 77 passengers were on board on one of the carriages, while 78 others were in the other economy class carriage. At least 54 passengers were travelling in the business class carriage. 

"A cylinder exploded and I don't know how, fire erupted everywhere," one survivor, Muhammad Imran, said at 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, said some of the victims were killed by head injuries sustained as they leapt from the moving train. 

Railways minister blames train fire on passengers

Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed while speaking to Geo News said, “Two cooking stoves blew up. They were cooking, they had [cooking] oil which added fuel to fire.” 

“Most deaths occurred from people jumping off the train,” he added.

He added, the train track will be functional in two hours.

Read also: 7 deadly train accidents since July 2018

He said men from the tableeghi jammat were travelling in the carriage where the incident occurred. "Bogies were severely damaged by the fire and they have been detached by the rest of the train,” he said.

The railways minister has also announced a Rs1.5million compensation for the families of the deceased in the Tezgam incident and Rs0.5 million for those injured.

Speaking to media before departing for Rahim Yar Khan, Rasheed said Ameer Hussain of tableeghi jamaat had booked the two carriages.

“It was our negligence that they were allowed to board with gas cylinders,” Rasheed added.

President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed their deep grief and sorrow over the loss of precious lives in Tezgam Express fire incident in Rahim Yar Khan. In their separate condolence messages, they condoled with the bereaved families.

The prime minister directed authorities concerned to provide prompt and best possible medical treatment to those injured in the incident. He said that he had ordered an immediate inquiry to be completed on an urgent basis. 

Pakistan Army soldiers assist with relief operation

Dozens of people crowded along the tracks following the accident, staring at the burning carriages which had been disconnected from the rest of the train.

Firefighters rushed to the scene near Rahim Yar Khan district, as Pakistan Army soldiers also reached the location to help with the rescue operation.

“Pakistan Army soldiers are working with the civil administration to help with the operation. An army aviation helicopter has reached the scene of the incident,” a statement from the ISPR said. 

The military’s media wing added that the helicopter was transporting the injured to the hospital. “Pakistan Army doctors and paramedics are also helping with the relief operation,” ISPR added. 

Most of the Passengers were travelling to attend the annual Tableeghi Ijtema, one of Pakistan's biggest religious gatherings, which each year sees up to 400,000 people descend on a tented village outside Lahore for several days to sleep, pray and eat together.

CEO Pakistan Railways Aijaz Ahmad said the train schedule would not be affected by this incident.

Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where the railways have seen decades of decline due to corruption, mismanagement and lack of investment.

At least 24 people were killed in July when the Akbar Bugti Express travelling from Lahore to Quetta collided with a stationary freight train at the Walhar Railway Station in Sadiqabad Tehsil of Punjab province. 

Last year, nine bogies of the Peshawar-bound Khushal Khan Khattak Express from Karachi derailed near Attock. 20 passengers were injured.