More than 70 people are believed to have been killed in easter n after two passenger buses and an oil tanker burst into flames in a head-on collision, health officials said.
Dozens of others were badly injured in the accident on Sunday in Ghazni province, near the Afghan capital, one of the areas worst affected by the Taliban insurgency.
Clouds of acrid smoke shrouded the scene of the crash on the Kabul-Kandahar highway, a major roadway linking Afghanistan’s two largest cities.
“The death toll has soared to 73,” ministry spokesman Ismail Kawoosi told AFP, warning that the number was expected to rise further. “Most of them are completely burned.”
Kawoosi gave a sharply higher toll than other officials. Ghazni’s governor, Mohammad Aman Hamimi, earlier reported seven fatalities but his own spokesman gave a death toll of 50.
Many of the survivors streamed into Ghazni’s main provincial hospital, while others were rushed in ambulances to health facilities in southern Kandahar city.
The Kabul-Kandahar highway passes through areas prone to militancy and many bus drivers are known to drive at top speeds in an attempt to avoid insurgent activity.
Esmatullah, one of the few passengers who survived the crash with minor injuries, said his bus driver was driving rashly. “Most bus drivers on the highways are known to smoke hashish, opium and other drugs,” he said. “They are completely out of control.”
Afghanistan has some of the world’s most dangerous roads, often in dilapidated condition, and traffic rules are seldom enforced. Many vehicles, meaning that high casualty road traffic accidents are common.
At least 18 people were killed in May last year when a minivan overturned in the western province of Badghis. In April 2013 a bus hit a wrecked fuel tanker in the southern province of Kandahar, killing 45 people.
The World Bank in November signed off a $250m (£170m) grant to upgrade roads crossing Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains, a crucial trade route that is often closed in winter by snow.
Insecurity is growing around Afghanistan as the Taliban press on with their 15-year insurgency against the western-backed Kabul government.