At least 22 people were killed yesterday morning after a fuel truck crashed into an overpass cement guardrail on busy Khurais Road in Riyadh. It caught fire before rolling down on the surrounding buildings.
“Early this morning, a fuel tanker crashed into the flyover and exploded, killing 22 people and wounding more than 133, mainly workers from Asian and other countries,” said Khaled Al-Mirghalani, a spokesman of the Ministry of Health.
Al-Mirghalani said the injured workers were admitted to 11 different hospitals in the city. The death toll was also confirmed by Director General of Civil Defense Lt. Gen. Saad bin Abdullah Al-Tuwaijri and by Saudi Television. The death toll was expected to rise.
Al-Tuwaijri warned the people to stay away from the area of the explosion because leaked gas can still cause injuries.
He said three people remained missing, while some of the injured were in serious condition.
“Almost all injured workers have been admitted to city hospitals for treatment,” he added.
Capt. Mohammed Hubail Al-Hammadi, a spokesman of the Civil Defense in Riyadh, said: “There were deaths from what he called a massive accident involving a tanker that hit the bridge, causing fuel to leak in huge quantity and a huge fire that engulfed the whole area including adjacent buildings.”
Al-Hammadi said it was too early to give a final casualty figure but an eyewitness counted several bodies on the spot. Many workers were in serious condition, said friends and relatives of some of the workers contacted by Arab News.
The nationalities of the workers, who were killed or injured during the explosion, were not immediately known. But eyewitnesses said several Asian workers died on the spot or later succumbed to their injuries.
“Two workers have massive cuts and burns all over their bodies,” said eyewitness Arif Mohammed Siqqidui, a Pakistani national, working in a nearby grocery.
“The scale of explosion can be gauged from the fact that there was a heavy blaze and the accident sent a thick plume of smoke into the air for hours,” said Siddiqui, adding panic gripped the neighborhood following the blast.
One eyewitness said the driver of the tanker survived and was arrested by police.
The Civil Defense spokesman said: “The tanker had a full load of fuel when the driver lost control on the curved flyover in the city and rolled over an adjacent industrial building housing some workers.” A huge amount of fuel spilled all over leading to the massive blaze that damaged several buildings in the vicinity of the accident site.
“The truck driver caused the tanker to crash into one of the pillars of the bridge,” spokesman Al-Hammadi added.
The explosion occurred after the truck spilled fuel, which expanded the area of the fireball. The explosion happened at 7 a.m. near the office of Zahid Tractor on Khurais Road, which is one of the busiest roads in Riyadh.
There was no immediate suspicion of terrorist links based on witness accounts, which suggested the truck exploded after striking part of the highway bridge.
Al-Hammadi said: “The gas leakage caused significant damages as a result of fire and explosion ... resulting in some traffic accidents.”
He said that rescue teams rushed to the spot in no time. A helicopter belonging to Civil Defense was also flown to back up the rescue operation. The rescue teams comprised senior officials and technical workers of the Civil Defense department, Red Crescent and Traffic Police Directorate.
A Civil Defense spokesman said several adjacent buildings were damaged. Nearby vehicles, including a minibus on the flyover, were set ablaze by the explosion.
Television footage of the disaster and pictures posted on social media showed a body lying next to burned out vehicles. Several burned out victims were still seated in their cars.
Another eyewitness, M. Sohaib, from the southern Indian state of Kerala, said he was shocked to see the explosion and the billowing smoke. Sohaib, whose brother-in-law, Sadiq, was injured in the blaze, said he jumped out of his car and fled the accident site as soon as he saw the truck exploding on the overpass.
“I was inside the building when the blast came,” said Kushnoo Akhtar, a 55-year-old Pakistani worker, who was covered in dirt and bleeding from multiple cuts on his body. “Then boom, the building collapsed and furniture, chairs and cabinets blasted into the room I was in. My brother is still inside under the rubble ... there are lots of people in there.”
More than 100 emergency personnel combed the wreckage and the rubble of the surrounding buildings.
Security and health officials took the injured to different hospitals for medical treatment immediately after the accident. Five injured Indian workers are being treated at the local military hospital.
The Ministry of Health has set apart two helplines — 012124123 and 012124133 — for people to inquire about the injured.