A massive gas truck explosion in Haiti on Tuesday killed at least 62 people as pedestrians jumped into cars to collect spilled fuel – a valuable commodity in a country plagued by acute shortages.
The explosion in Cape Haiti, Haiti’s second city, is the latest in a series of devastating blows to the poverty-stricken Caribbean nation, plagued by gang violence and political paralysis.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry visited the scene of the tragedy, saying his heart was “broken” after meeting dozens of injured at a local hospital. He later tweeted that emergency funds had been released to help deal with the tragedy.
Burnt remains of the truck lie in the city’s built-up summary area on the country’s north coast. The blast burned nearby buildings to ashes.
Crowds gathered at the scene, where some of the dead were left on the street in body bags.
Deputy Mayor Patrick Almoner said, “We have now counted 62 dead,” adding that authorities are still searching for victims in nearby buildings.
Almon described a gruesome scene in which he saw dozens of people “burned alive” and “impossible to identify them.”
The truck is thought to have overturned if the driver lost control to avoid the motorcycle taxi.
Haiti’s civil protection department has confirmed that the truck was wrecked – and that pedestrians rushed to the capital, Port-au-Prince, to collect a rare product, escaping gas, amid an acute fuel crisis caused by a criminal gang.
“After the accident, civilians took the opportunity to collect gas by filling up temporary reservoirs – causing a massive explosion that caused numerous casualties and large-scale material damage,” Civil Protection Director Jerry Chandler told AFP.
Almoner said about 40 homes in the area had also been damaged, but that no details had yet been released about possible victims inside.
Justinian University Hospital was overwhelmed by patients injured in the blast. “We don’t have the capacity to treat people with severe burns,” a nurse told AFP. “I’m afraid we can’t save them all.”
A doctor at the hospital told local radio station Magik9 that two had died and 40 others had been seriously injured. “More than 80 percent of the human body has been burnt,” he said.
After visiting the hospital, Henry said: “With a broken heart, I saw the serious condition of some of our countrymen.”
The prime minister flew in with additional health workers and said in a tweet that he had “expressed solidarity with the bereaved family.”
He had earlier promised that field hospitals would be deployed soon to take care of the victims of the blast.
Henry – who has led the country since July following the assassination of President Juvenal Moises in a mysterious plot – has declared national mourning following the blast.
National energy crisis
Haiti has not produced enough electricity to meet the needs of its population. Even in good parts of the capital, the state-run Haiti Electric Utility supplies only a few hours of electricity a day.
Those who can afford it rely on expensive generators, which do not help in the face of fuel shortages caused by gangs blocking access to the country’s oil terminals in the capital and its suburbs.
In recent months, more than a dozen fuel truck drivers have been attacked by gangs demanding ransom for their release.
Protesters took to the streets on Monday to protest rising petrol prices.
Lack of fuel is also hurting access to water, in a country where many people rely on private companies to supply water by truck to their homes.
And without any guarantee of uninterrupted power or running water, healthcare providers have been forced to drastically reduce their services.
Haiti was plunged into a new political crisis with the assassination of the long-destabilized Haiti.
Four senior Haitian law enforcement officers have been arrested and dozens more have been arrested in connection with the investigation. But even five months after the killings, doubts remain as to who ordered the attack.
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