A fire, which broke out from an electric generator, engulfed a petrol pump and a fuel tanker in Liberty square area on Sunday night.
Around four people were injured, of which one is in critical condition, and 17 vehicles were gutted including 10 cars, an oil tanker and motorcycles.
The Liberty plaza and Musafirkhana, which also houses offices of NADRA and the union council, border the pump while the compound buildings of the Civil Hospital are located adjacently.
Clouds of toxic fumes had overcome the hospital’s surgical and gynaecological wards, and fire fighters took over two hours to douse the flames. The square is also home to a mini food street attracting thousands of people daily.
“The tanker was offloading fuel in the petrol pump’s underground storage tank when the electricity went off. As soon as a staff started the generator, fire broke out,” a survivor and eyewitness, who works at the pump, told The Express Tribune.
According to him, the tanker’s driver tried to move the vehicle away from the pump. “He had hardly driven a few metres when the tanker hit a pole and stopped. The leaking fuel then caught fire, as did the cars and bikes parked nearby,” he said.
Hyderabad SSP Irfan Baloch said he is unsure whether the Pakistan State Oil has confirmed if the tanker was theirs, but said it was definitely not carrying Iranian smuggled fuel. He informed that an FIR has been lodged against the pump’s owners.
“The police have assured us of complete cooperation [for compensation],” said Salman Shahzad, a newspaper dispatcher whose car was burnt. He said that if the pump owners refused to compensate the affected vehicle owners, each one of us will lodge a separate FIR against them.
Negligence or connivance?
Dozens of fuel stations in Hyderabad are established in thickly inhabited areas. On top of that, the traffic police allow unrestricted movement to oil tankers round the clock, in violation of the 9am to 10pm ban imposed by the district administration.
“The ban is only for heavy transport vehicles. The oil and water tankers are allowed movement except during peak traffic hours,” said SP Traffic Imdad Shah.
“I have ordered an inquiry both into the cause of the incident and to find out how the tanker entered the city during the banned hours,” said Hyderabad deputy commissioner Mutasam Abbassi.
“[The] OGRA [Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority] issues licences to applicants on just 400 square meters piece of land, without considering what sort of area the fuel station will be located on,” he lamented. The OGRA officials could not be contacted for their comments.
Abbassi also informed that he will recommend to the Hyderabad commissioner, and through him the provincial government, the relocation of petrol pumps from heavily populated areas to more isolated localities.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2016.
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