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At least 146 people have been burnt alive and dozens of others injured after a fuel tanker overturned and exploded outside the eastern city of Bahawalpur in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

The incident occurred on Sunday morning as a large number of people gathered to collect petrol from the vehicle, according to rescue services.

Local sources told Al Jazeera that most of the victims were residents of nearby areas who were collecting fuel from the oil tanker, which had overturned after skidding off a national highway in Ahmedpur East.

Residents could be seen walking past blackened and twisted bodies piled by the side of the road.

Earlier, television footage showed shooting flames and a thick plume of smoke as firefighters battled to extinguish the blaze.

The charred wreckage of dozens of motorcycles and cars could be seen scattered on the highway, along with kitchen utensils, pots, water coolers, jerrycans and buckets which victims had brought to collect the petrol.

‘Huge fireball’

Details were unclear but some witnesses suggested the vehicle had suffered a burst tyre, according to Raja Riffat, the regional police chief.

“When it turned over the residents of the nearby village of Ramzanpur Joya rushed to the site with buckets and other containers, and a large number of people on motorcycles also came and started collecting the spilling fuel,” he told the AFP news agency.

“After about 10 minutes the tanker exploded in a huge fireball and enveloped the people collecting petrol. It was not clear how the fire started.”

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