A catastrophic explosion and fire at an Afghan customs depot has destroyed hundreds of fuel tankers and caused traders tens of millions of pounds of losses.
A series of blasts hurled lorries hundreds of yards into the air and deposited the crumpled remains of fuel tanks as far as half a mile from the blast site.
Nasa satellites could reportedly see the blast from space and the fire was so intense that Afghan officials appealed to neighbouring Iran for help.
The blast on the Iranian border in Western Afghanistan destroyed as much as $50 million worth of vehicles and goods, the local chamber of commerce said.
“It’s a huge catastrophe for the private sector,” said Younis Qazizada, a spokesman for the chamber.
Health officials in the nearby city of Herat said only 17 people had been injured, but with the customs depot entirely incinerated, there were fears bodies would only be found later. The cause of the blast was unknown, officials said.
“The devastation is much higher than we imagined,” said Mr Qazizada. “There’s no infrastructure remaining at all.”
Some estimates put the number of destroyed fuel tankers as high as 500. The blast site was still smouldering on Sunday. Electricity pylons had been knocked down by the force of the blast and the highway next to the depot was blocked by incinerated vehicles.
Crowds looted many of the remaining lorries and on Sunday there were repeated bursts of gunfire as soldiers tried to keep order.
Local traders blamed delays by customs officials for building a dangerous backlog of tankers are the border.
Iranian state media said the country had sent several helicopters, 11 fire engines and 21 ambulances to the scene after requests for help from the local governor. Units of the Iranian Army’s Ground Force were also sent to the border area and the Iranian police were drafted into rescue operations.