The explosion of the chemical-laden tanker on the Pune-Mumbai Expressway on Tuesday paralysed traffic on the busy Pune-Mumbai Expressway for more than three hours, said traffic department officials.
Many commuters missed flights and work schedules, causing inconvenience and frustration.
The tanker transporting methanol burst into flames near a busy junction on the expressway on the Kunegaon bridge between Lonavla and Khandala. The explosion caused fiery balls of the chemical to fall on vehicle users travelling on the road below the bridge, claiming lives of three motorists. The sole occupant of the tanker was also killed, according to the Lonavla police station officials.
Authorities swiftly responded to the emergency, dispatching fire brigades, ambulances, and police personnel to the scene. Firefighters battled to extinguish the blaze while ensuring the safety of commuters and nearby vehicles. However, the intensity of the fire and the volatile nature of the cargo posed significant challenges, prolonging the firefighting efforts. There were intermittent explosions even after the firemen doused the blaze, forcing the highway police to stop traffic coming from both ends of the 93-km stretch.
Vehicles were seen stranded on the expressway for more than three hours, and the traffic was later moving at a snail’s pace as it took time for authorities to clear the road. According to locals, the traffic jam was stretched for more than seven kilometres from both sides. As the hours ticked by, the traffic congestion worsened.
Many travellers reported missing their Pune flights and airline representatives took steps to accommodate affected passengers on alternative flights.
Ahmed Sheikh of Karad, on his way to attend the Haj pilgrimage, fears that his Mumbai flight will be missed due to the traffic situation.
“Our flight was scheduled at 6:30 pm from Mumbai airport and we were to reach the airport by 4 pm. It’s almost 2:30 pm and we are stuck at Khandala,” said Sheikh who paid ₹5 lakh for the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and now worries about possible loss of money.
Another passenger and Haj pilgrim Ayub Mulani, from Satara, also got stuck in the traffic on Tuesday. He said, “We left home at 8 am giving ample traffic time to reach the Mumbai airport, but the accident has hit our travel plan.”
Kranti Deshmukh, another commuter from Pune on her way to Mumbai to meet a client for work deal, was also stuck in the jam. “I had got the appointment with the official for today after many follow-ups. Now what can I convey to my client?”
Lata Phad, state highway police Pune incharge, said, “We stopped heavy traffic at Urse and Khalapur toll plaza points and diverted small vehicles from the old Pune-Mumbai highway.”
“After dousing the blaze, we reopened one lane, but fire erupted again from the mishap spot prompting us to stop traffic and focus on extinguishing the fire. Hence, we stopped vehicle movement from 1.30 pm to 4.30 pm,” Lata said.
While traffic on the expressway resumed after 4.30 pm, tow trucks were deployed to clear the stretch of any immobilised vehicles.