Death toll from Haiti truck explosion rises to 90: official

·2-min read
Ninety have been confirmed dead, with the number still expected to rise, after a gas truck exploded in Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second-largest city (AFP/Richard Pierrin)

More than a dozen people severely injured in a gas truck explosion last week have died, raising the total number of deaths to 90, the deputy mayor of Cap-Haitien, the city in Haiti where the tragedy occurred, said Monday.

The count is "still unfortunately incomplete" due to severe injuries suffered by those still hospitalized, said Patrick Almonor.

The previous tally released last Wednesday by Haitian authorities stood at 75 deaths with 47 victims severely burned.

According to Almonor, during the night of December 13, the driver of the gas truck lost control when he swerved to avoid a motor-taxi, and subsequently overturned. Residents tried to collect the spilled fuel, which then exploded.

On Tuesday, national funerals will be observed in the city's main cathedral, but only 25 caskets will be set up. The majority of the victims were buried shortly afterward in a mass grave in Cap-Haitien.

In a country plagued by natural disasters and political instability, more than 60 percent of Haiti's 11 million inhabitants live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

Fuel shortages have been a frequent occurrence in recent years, with authorities regularly running out of cash to pay gas distributors.

"Fuel is worth its weight in gold these days in the country, and there it was free for the taking," Almonor said, describing the scene of the explosion. "That's what worsened the toll."

The tragedy also underscored the weakness of Haiti's national health care system: the only structure specializing in the care of severe burns in the country is managed by Doctors Without Borders (Medecins sans Frontieres, or MSF) which is located in the capital, 200 kilometers (120 miles) to the south of Cap-Haitien.

The international NGO dispatched an emergency team to the northern city to help local hospital staff.

Jean Gilbert Ndong, MSF's medical coordinator, said the injured still in hospital included two children.

"We are at Justinien University Hospital where we have 15 patients including two children who should be discharged today," he said.

"The care of these patients is long-term, it will be at least three to four months," Ndong said, insisting that MSF professionals stand "ready to support the Haitian government."

Lamenting the deaths of the injured over the weekend, both at the MSF hospital in Port-au-Prince and in Cap-Haitien, he said that the deceased had suffered "significant burns which ranged from 80 to 95 percent of the body."

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