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Karachi, Pakistan — A devastating accident involving an exploding fuel tanker has left at least 154 people dead in eastern Pakistan, according to reports.

An estimated 20 children were among the dead.

According to Nishtar Hospital, which is treating many of the wounded, said that over 140 people were injured in the explosion, many of them critically.

A state of emergency has been declared in the city.

The tanker overturned after the driver lost control on a sharp bend on a road from Karachi to Lahore after the vehicle blew a tie. Drivers rushed to the site to collect the leaking fuel, which exploded after someone apparently lit a cigarette, Reuters reported, citing officials.

A large crowd of people gathered, many to collect fuel in containers, and the tanker exploded in a huge fireball about 45 minutes later.

“People of the area and passers by had started gathering fuel when it exploded, burning everybody,” provincial government spokesman Malik Muhammad Ahmed Khan told Reuters.

The accident blocked the road, causing a major traffic backup, and local police tried to clear the road before the explosion but motorists ignored the directive to get out of the area.

The accident happened the day before Pakistan celebrates the Eid al-Fitr festival, when families get together to celebrate the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Many bodies were burned beyond recognition and television pictures showed piles of burnt out motorcycles, apparently those of people who were collecting fuel or watching events unfold.

The US Embassy in Islamabad tweeted its condolences. “We are so saddened to hear of the terrible oil tanker accident in #Bahawalpur,” it said. “Our deep condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims.”

Abdul Malik, a local police officer who was also among the first to arrive, described a “horrible scene.”

“I have never seen anything like it in my life. Victims trapped in the fireball. They were screaming for help,” he said.

When the fire subsided, “we saw bodies everywhere, so many were just skeletons. The people who were alive were in really bad shape,” he said.

Witnesses said about 30 motorcycles that had carried villagers to the accident site lay charred nearby. Eight other vehicles were destroyed, they said.

Some of the most badly burned were evacuated by army helicopters to Multan, about 60 miles away.

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