Port au Prince:
At least 60 people were killed when a gas tanker exploded in the Haitian city of Cap-Haitien on Tuesday morning, according to a local official, as tolls continued to rise.
“We have now counted 60 deaths,” said Deputy Mayor Patrick Almonor, adding that authorities were still looking for additional victims amid the charred waste.
Almonor, who visited the blast site, said he had seen more than 50 badly burned bodies, while Prime Minister Ariel Henry had estimated the death toll at around 40 in an earlier tweet.
“I saw on the spot between 50 and 54 people burned alive,” the deputy mayor said. “It is impossible to identify them.”
According to Almonor, the tanker truck is believed to have overturned after the driver lost control while turning to avoid a motorcycle taxi.
Fuel spilled out onto the road, and pedestrians apparently hurried to pick up the tanker’s gas, which is in short supply as Haiti struggles with a severe fuel shortage caused by criminal gangs’ tighter grip on the capital Port-au-Prince.
Almonor said about 20 houses in the area were also set on fire by the explosion, but that no details were yet available about possible victims inside the homes.
The nearby Justin University Hospital was overwhelmed with patients as the wounded were transported to the facility.
“We do not have the ability to treat the number of severely burned people,” a nurse told AFP.
“I’m afraid we will not be able to save them all,” she said.
The Haitian prime minister decreed a period of national mourning after the blast, which he said left “about 40 people” dead and dozens injured.
“I learned with sadness and emotion the terrible news of the explosion of a gas tanker last night in Cap-Haiti,” Henry tweeted.
“Three days of national mourning will be decreed across the country in memory of the victims of this tragedy that has devastated the entire Haitian nation.”
Henry promised that field hospitals would be deployed quickly to help take care of the explosion victims.
The Caribbean nation has never produced enough electricity to meet the needs of the entire population. Even in affluent parts of the capital, the state-run Haiti power plant supplies no more than a few hours of electricity a day.
Those who can afford it rely on expensive generators, which are of no help in light of the severe fuel shortage caused by gangs blocking access to the country’s oil terminals in the capital and its outskirts.
In recent months, more than a dozen vehicles carrying fuel have been attacked by gangs demanding ransoms for the release of drivers.
Protesters took to the streets as late as Monday, protesting against the resulting rise in gasoline prices.
The lack of fuel also dampens access to water in a country where many people depend on private companies to supply water by truck to home systems.
And without a guarantee of constant power or water supply, healthcare providers have been forced to drastically cut back on their services.
Haiti is also dealing with the aftermath of the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July.
Cap-Haiti, located on the northern coast, is the country’s second largest city.