TEHRAN, Iran – A tanker truck carrying gasoline crashed into packed buses in southern Iran (search) and erupted in flames, killing 71 people, news reports said Friday. Another 108 people were injured, many suffering severe burns.
The buses were stopped at a police station on the main road between Bam and Zahedan when the truck smashed into them Thursday evening, said Heidar Ali Nouraei, mayor of the city of Zahedan, about 70 miles away.
The road is along a major drug smuggling route that runs from Afghanistan through Iran and on to the West, and buses often stop at police stations on highways there to be inspected for contraband.
Hossein Amini, governor general of Sistan-Baluchistan province, where the accident occurred, said the crash killed 71 people and injured 108.
The truck was carrying more than 4,500 gallons of gas. Nouraei said the casualties could have been much lower but there wasn't any firefighting equipment nearby to douse the flames.
The head of Zahedan Medical Sciences University (search), Mohammad Naqi Hosseini Tabatabaei, told state TV that more than 100 people were hurt.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency said its steering mechanism may have failed. It said a truck containing tar was one of those hit by the tanker.
Video images showed buses gutted by fire and at least one long vehicle turned on its side. Survivors were crying and slapping themselves in the face, a mourning ritual.
The area where the accident occurred is 690 miles southeast of the capital Tehran.
Iran has one of the world's worst rates for road accidents. There were more than 400,000 crashes and 21,000 deaths on its roads in 2002. The high tolls are blamed on unsafe vehicles, disregard of traffic laws and inadequate emergency services.