BANGKOK -- A speeding truck carrying liquified petroleum gas overturned in a busy intersection and exploded in a 'giant fireball,' killing at least 51 people and seriously burning more than 97 others, witnesses and officials said Tuesday.
The explosions and fire Monday night incinerated 53 cars and motorcycles caught in heavy traffic, set ablaze 30 buildings on both sides of the road and uncounted slum dwellings, police said. One American was reported among the injured.
'It was like a huge fireball across six lanes of traffic,' said Richard Rothhaas, an American journalist who just missed getting caught by the explosions.
'I saw one man come crawling out, his clothes blasted off, his body burned white,' Rothhaas said. 'He just lay there saying 'Let me die, let me die.'
Police Col. Kongdet Chusing, a district police chief, told reporters Tuesday that several victims died in hospitals Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 51. Another 97 injured remained hospitalized, he said. Earlier tallies put the dead at minimally 44 and the injured at 102.
Chamras Siriyotha, a police official at Phya Thai police station near the scene of the accident said several of those in hospitals had severe burns over most of their bodies and may not live.
'This is the worst such disaster I have seen in more than 30 years as a policeman,' Kongdet said.
Kongdet said the truck, carrying two large tanks of about 635 gallons of liquified petroleum gas, drove into the intersection 'recklessly and at a high rate of speed' and crashed into a private car.
'The gas truck overturned and the tanks smashed into the pavement,' he said. The safety valves burst and the tanks spewed ... 200 to 300 meters (yards) across the road. The gas exploded and set fire to cars in the roadway and buildings on both sides,' he said.
He said witnesses saw one man emerge from the cab of the gas truck with his clothes in flames, but it was not known whether he was among the survivors, many of whom were too severely injured to be questioned. One corpse was found in the truck, he said.
In one building, a residence for single women, rescue workers found five charred bodies, he said.
Hospital officials said that among those injured in the gas explosion were four foreigners: Peter Gillies, a Canadian dentist, I.S. Nung Kham, a Burmese, Klaus Stenhorn, a German, and Martin Gruber, an American.
A hospital official said Gillies, 45, said he was from the town of Nanaimo on the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, and that Gruber was from Van Nuys, California.
Gillies, who was vacationing at the time of the fire, suffered facial burns as he fled through the flames and his Thai wife was severely burned.
Other hospital officials said Gruber, 42, was seriously burned, but out of danger. Stenhorn, 34, however, was in intensive care, with burns to his face, arms and legs, an official said.
Kongdet said many of the dead were burned beyond recognition.
Government television reported the liquefied petroleum tank truck was speeding down an exit ramp from a highway into the intersection to beat a red light and flipped over when it could not make the turn.
The accident took place at about 10 p.m., when Bangkok streets were still heavy with traffic. Fire department officials said they brought the fire under control within two hours.
Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan visited the scene of the accident to encourage rescue workers and inspect the damage, officials said.