Petrol tanker explosion kills 90 in Iran

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The Independent Online

A massive explosion near Iran's border with Afghanistan killed at least 90 people late on Thursday night after a petrol tanker crashed into the Nosrat Abad checkpoint, 60 miles west of Zahedan.

A massive explosion near Iran's border with Afghanistan killed at least 90 people late on Thursday night after a petrol tanker crashed into the Nosrat Abad checkpoint, 60 miles west of Zahedan.

Trucks, buses and cars were caught up in an inferno as the petrol tanks ignited in the blaze.

"Ninety bodies have been recovered but the death toll could rise further," said a Red Crescent official at the scene.

"The disaster is so grave we cannot identify faces and cannot differentiate between corpses," Haidar Ali Nourai, governor of the south-eastern city of Zahedan, told state television.

News footage showed the blackened shells of vehicles and bodies burnt beyond recognition. Reports said most of those killed were women waiting inthe buses while the men were searched by the police outside.

News agencies reported the tanker lost control as it navigated a steep hill in front of the checkpoint, before striking an electricity pylon and then careering into the police post where a line of other vehicles was waiting. State television said the tanker caught fire immediately after crashing and erupted in a fireball that stretched for 50 yards. It enveloped lorries carrying tar, giving the fire new strength.

Sistan-Baluchistan is on the main drug-smuggling route from Afghanistan to the rest of the world and police frequently stop and search vehicles and their passengers.

Iran's heavily subsidised petrol is smuggled into Afghanistan and Pakistan, where it is sold. At petrol stations in the south-east of the country it is common to see men loading secret tanks and compartments with petrol - turning the vehicles into travelling bombs.

Despite having one of the world's largest reserves of oil, Iran is a net petrol importer because it has such low refining capacity. Plans to spend more than £6bn on increasing output will take years to put into effect and the government is trying to bring prices up to help meet the cost of production and import. But the move is unpopular and until prices rise closer to market levels, the smuggling is likely to continue.

Travel safety in Iran has come under scrutiny in recent months. Not only does the Islamic Republic have one of the world's highest road accident rates - with a death every five hours - but it has also suffered from frequent air disasters. The last major air crash was in mid-February when a Kish Air flight came down in the UAE, killing everybody on board. Many of the disasters are blamed on old Russian aircraft, which are difficult to replace because of American economic sanctions.

In February, a train derailed in north-east Iran and exploded after its cargo of fertilisers, cotton wool, sulphur and petrol caught fire, killing 289 people.

The enforcement of building guidelines was also brought into question after the deadly Bam earthquake on 26 December killed between 26,000-40,000 people. The use of adobe mud bricks in combination with modern steel post and beam structures was held responsible by some architects for the high death toll.

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