Haiti truck blast: Death toll rises to 90, but still ‘incomplete’

Deputy mayor of Cap-Haitien says death count ‘still unfortunately incomplete’ as several victims remain in hospital.

People sift through debris after authorities knocked down buildings damaged when a fuel truck exploded in Cap-Haitien, killing dozens of people [File: Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters]

The death toll from a fuel tanker explosion in northern Haiti last week has risen to 90, the deputy mayor of Cap-Haitien said on Monday, as the coastal city continues to grapple with the aftermath of the devastating blast.

Patrick Almonor said on Monday that the fatality count is “still unfortunately incomplete” due to severe injuries suffered by those who remain hospitalised.

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

Officials have said the driver of the truck lost control in the early hours of December 14 when trying to avoid running over a motorbike.

Witnesses say residents rushed towards the tanker after the crash to collect some of the spilled petrol before the vehicle exploded into a fireball, damaging cars, homes and shops in the neighbourhood.

National funerals for the victims of the blast will be observed on Tuesday in the main cathedral in Cap-Haitien, after Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry said last week that his government was taking steps to help organise the commemorations.

But only 25 caskets will be set up as the majority of the people killed in the explosion were buried shortly afterwards in a mass grave in the city.

Haiti is experiencing a surge in gang violence and worsening political instability in the aftermath of the killing of President Jovenel Moise in early July. The Caribbean nation has also struggled to rebuild after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck in August.

Fuel shortages and spiralling costs also have been a frequent occurrence in the country in recent years, with authorities regularly running out of cash to pay gas distributors.

Armed gangs recently cut off access to fuel terminals in and around the capital, Port-au-Prince, worsening the situation.

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

Health authorities in Cap-Haitien had called for additional supplies and workers, saying local hospitals were ill-equipped to handle a high number of people in need of burn care.

UNICEF’s Haiti office said on December 14 that it was working with the Haitian ministry of health and other partners to ship emergency medical kits to help two local hospitals treat patients with burns.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies