Police say tanker truck explosion kills at least 26 people in southern Philippines

A tanker truck exploded on a mountain road in the southern Philippines after overturning, police officials said Friday, killing at least 27 people and injuring 13 others.

The truck was negotiating a downhill section of the highway in Tigbao town and apparently lost control of its brakes, slammed into the side of a mountain and overturned, killing the driver, said Senior Superintendent Ramon Ochotorena, police chief of Zamboanga del Sur province.

He said witness accounts and documents recovered from the scene indicated the tanker was carrying compressed carbon dioxide gas. An initial police report said it was carrying liquefied petroleum gas.

He said passing motorists and passengers of a minibus that was following the truck tried to help extricate truck crewmen on the highway in the town of Tigbao.

Minutes later, someone shouted there was a fire from beneath the truck, but before people could flee, the tanker exploded with such force that it completely demolished the vehicle and blew away the roof of the minibus and flung it to the opposite lane, Ochotorena said.

"It was blown to smithereens. You cannot see any parts of the truck here," Ochotorena told The Associated Press by cell phone from the site, about 770 kilometers (480 miles) south of Manila. "Fortunately, there were no houses nearby."

He said police recovered 24 bodies and the decapitated head of a person, plus various body parts at a nearby ravine, indicating more people had probably died.

At least two other people died later in Pagadian city, the provincial capital, about 20 kilometers (13 miles) away, said provincial social welfare officer Conchita San Diego.

Mark Gleen Tahum, 24, one of the truck's crew, said he was able to save himself by jumping off the truck before it overturned and helped pull out another crewman. He flagged down a vehicle to bring his injured companion to a hospital in Pagadian.

He said they were bringing their cargo to a soft drink plant in Zamboanga City, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) to the south. Merlyn Berbanio said she was riding a motorcycle driven by her husband when they were caught in traffic because of the overturned truck, reports AP.

"All of sudden, there was a loud explosion and I saw thick smoke. I fell on the road. I could not get up. I could not walk," she said by cell phone from the Zamboanga del Sur Provincial Hospital in Pagadian.

She said her right leg had been broken and a brother-in-law had been killed in the blast. Her husband was being treated at a hospital for injuries.

Tigbao police chief Inspector Usman Edding said a bomb squad from the provincial capital is helping in the investigation because of their experience in dealing with explosions, not because of any known link to possible terrorism.

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