- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2003

GAYAL, Pakistan (AP) — A blaze at a contractor’s house yesterday ignited dynamite stored inside, triggering a series of fiery blasts that killed at least 47 persons and injured 150 in a northern Pakistani village.

Many of the victims were fighting the early-morning fire in Gayal when the explosives — used for building a state-funded water channel — ripped the village apart, destroying or damaging at least half of its 100 homes, witnesses said.

“Suddenly a big explosion jolted the entire village and a flood of fire swept through the nearby homes,” said Nazir Ahmed, 20, whose sister and nephew were killed.

Police said the fire appeared to have been accidental, sparked by an electrical short-circuit. Investigators were checking whether the contractor, who also died, had been legally storing the explosives.

Construction crews frequently use explosives to clear land for roads and other projects in the scenic mountainous area, home to K-2, the world’s second-tallest peak. The government is trying to spur economic growth in the poor region and make it more accessible to tourists.

Mourners wailed and beat their chests as they rushed to bury the bodies in the village, which has a population of 5,000.

“I lost my four relatives just because they were trying to help extinguish the fire,” said Faiz Ullah, 25. “For me, the world is finished.”

A district-government official, Hai Fiza Naushad, said at least 47 persons, including three women and two children, died. About 150 were injured and 13 were missing, officials said.

Bahadur Khan, a doctor at a hospital in Chilas, where most of the injured were taken, said patients described seeing a “huge ball of fire.” He also quoted an injured villager, Jan Gul, as saying that he saw dozens of “burning bodies flying in the air.”

President Pervez Musharraf sent a condolence message to the victims’ families and ordered an inquiry, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

Investigators know only that the contractor had planned to use the explosives to clear rocks for constructing a state-funded water channel, said Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema, director general of the National Crisis Management Cell in the Interior Ministry.

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