Fears grew Wednesday the death toll from a massive gas truck explosion in Haiti would climb as officials scrambled to provide care for dozens suffering burn injuries sustained in the accident.
One day after the blast in Haiti’s second largest city of Cap-Haitien, 75 people were confirmed dead in the latest disaster to hit the poverty-wracked Caribbean nation, riven by gang violence and political paralysis.
As of Wednesday evening, there were 59 people still being treated for burn injuries, most of them severe, civil protection director Jerry Chandler told AFP.
“We are currently doubling down on efforts to re-enforce our local health infrastructure,” he said, adding that a field hospital at a local gym was almost ready.
Chandler said the facility is expected to operate for the next seven to 10 days, supported by materials from the World Health Organization and personnel deployed by the country’s health ministry.
The death toll had increased throughout the day Wednesday, as the injured succumbed to burns that in some cases covered large portions of their bodies.
Most were injured when passers-by had rushed to collect gas — a rare commodity amid severe fuel shortages — that spilled from a flipped tanker truck into the street early Tuesday morning.
Some patients were transferred outside Cap-Haitien, including to a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, or MSF, which runs the only facility in the country equipped to treat severe burns.
“We have been operating all night,” MSF medical coordinator Jean Gilbert Ndong said Wednesday morning.
“For now, our 12 patients are stable,” he said, adding his team was expecting another dozen patients to arrive later.
MSF also has a team in Cap-Haitien, Ndong said, including a burn specialist surgeon.
Patrick Almonor, deputy mayor of Cap-Haitien, described the horrific scene Tuesday, saying he had seen dozens of people “burned alive” and that it was “impossible to identify them.”
Homes nearby also suffered serious damage after being set ablaze in the explosion.
Haiti has never produced enough electricity to meet the needs of its population. Even in well-off parts of the capital, the state-run Haiti electric utility only provides, at most, a few hours of power a day.
Fuel shortages have been exacerbated by violent gangs blocking access to oil terminals, which has hampered the provision of adequate medical care.
“We have a population that lives in extreme poverty,” said Marie-Rosy Auguste Ducena, an activist with the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights.
“That’s what prompted people to go out and collect gasoline from the tanker, they thought they could resell the fuel,” she said.
Chronically unstable Haiti was plunged into a new crisis in July when President Jovenel Moise was assassinated in a still-mysterious plot.
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