At least 60 people died when a tanker truck carrying gasoline exploded in Haiti’s second-largest city of Cap-Haïtien, Haitian officials said Tuesday.
The tragedy unfolded when the tanker-trailer swerved to avoid a passing motorcycle and overturned near midnight Monday, and began spilling gasoline, according to local officials. Residents, who have been suffering from fuel shortages in the country, gathered around the truck to collect gasoline in buckets when the truck exploded, engulfing many in the crowd in a fireball.
“Local residents flocked to the truck when the explosion occurred,” Patrick Almonor, the deputy mayor of Cap-Haïtien, said in an interview.
Mr. Almonor told radio station Magik9 that the death toll from the late Monday blast was likely to rise further since the explosion burned some 20 nearby homes, likely with victims trapped inside that had not yet been counted, he said.
Forty patients suffering from serious burns were being treated at the city’s main hospital, a local doctor told Magik9.
Video showed a towering flame shooting at least 100 feet into the air and enveloping a street in the city, located on the country’s northern coast.
“I am appalled by the tragedy that is affecting our city,” said
the mayor of Cap-Haïtien, writing on the city’s
said on Twitter that the blast also wounded dozens more and caused significant damage. Mr. Henry said field hospitals would be set up to attend to the injured, and declared three days of national mourning for the victims.
“I express my condolences to the parents of the victims and to all those who are directly or indirectly affected by this drama,” he said.
Mr. Henry said on Twitter he was on his way to Cap-Haïtien Tuesday along with doctors and first-aid workers.
The injured were crowded into the courtyard of the city’s main hospitals for lack of space, and hospitals were in need of supplies, Haiti’s Le Nouvelliste newspaper said.
The blast is the latest in a series of setbacks to hit Haiti, following July’s assassination of President
and a devastating 7.2-magnitude earthquake in August that killed at least 2,000 people and destroyed thousands of homes in the country’s southern peninsula.
Following the assassination, which further weakened an already weak Haitian state, powerful gangs increased their grip on the country, kidnapping hundreds of people for ransom. A group of 17 missionaries, including women and children, all but one American, was taken captive by one gang in October. Five of the missionaries have since been released, but the rest are still being held.
Haitians have also suffered from stifling gasoline shortages. Earlier this year, the country’s principal fuel terminal was blocked by gangs that attempted to extort money from the government and force Mr. Henry to resign.
As a result, the price of gasoline shot up to as much as $25 a gallon, and hospitals shut down. The price of gas has since fallen to about $2.50 a gallon.
—Patrick Saint-Pre in Port-au-Prince contributed to this article.
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