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Fuel blast that killed 59 in Haiti is second explosion in four days

This is the second such blast in less than one week involving a fuel tanker.
Rescuers wrapping dead bodies
Rescuers wrapping dead bodies in sheets after a gas explosion left at least 59 people dead in Cap-Haitien. Photo by Samuel Volcy

The Haitian Times
By Onz Chery

CAP-HAITIEN — A loud bang awoke John Eugène in the early morning hours of Dec. 14 from his home in the mountainous Zone Labory area of Cap-Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city. It was soon followed by another bang and neighbors yelling “Anmwe, anmwe” in apparent distress.

When Eugène, 35, rushed outside his home, he saw a fire spreading in Rond-Point Samari, an area located at the entrance of Cap-Haitien. As he recorded a video on his phone, he couldn’t help but think about all the people who had surely perished in the blaze. Hours later, Eugène found out that a childhood friend and the friend’s mother, father and two siblings were among the dead.

“They burned inside their home,” he said softly. “It hurts a lot. They were like family to me. Look at how the country is already struggling, and at the end of the year so many people suffered this ugly death.”

The fire was caused by a fuel tanker that exploded after flipping on its side in an attempt to avoid colliding with a motorcycle. Soon after the accident, residents began to gather around the vehicle to siphon off gas. Authorities have reported at least 59 deaths so far, with dozens more severely injured, Cap-Haitien’s Deputy Mayor Patrick Almonor told CNN. Many of the dead have yet to be identified.

The injured were transported to Justinien University Hospital and Haiti’s Baptist Convention Hospital. Both are in dire need of gas, IV bags and other medical supplies, according to Le Nouvelliste.

Temporary hospitals will be erected throughout Cap-Haitien. Prime Minister Ariel Henry tweeted that he and a team of health workers and rescuers traveled to the city. He also declared a three-day period of mourning. 

“I will take this opportunity to express my solidarity with the grieving families,” Henry said.

Accidents blamed on motorcycle drivers have become an issue Cap-Haitien officials have long been trying to tackle, they said.

The city planned to create dedicated motorcycle lanes in 2018, but have been hindered by insecurity and the pandemic.

Meanwhile, as residents begin to mourn the loss of family and friends, they blame the government for the tragedy.

“People are not educated and because of the government, gas means business in [the black market],” Eugène said. “Everybody ran to go get gas. They didn’t think about the danger.”

Haiti has been dealing with a fuel shortage throughout the year, with an alleged scheme to buy and sell it on the black market causing regular motorcycle drivers and the transportation industry to frequently protest. In September, the shortage worsened when street gangs blocked access to the seaports where the fuel shipments come in and are stored. The move caused businesses, schools, hospitals and other institutions to shut down throughout October and November because they did not have fuel to keep electrical systems running nor for transportation.

Earlier this week, another explosion occurred when a fuel tanker being stored inside a warehouse in Trou-du-Nord caught on fire, leaving one person dead and roughly a dozen injured. It is unclear what caused that explosion.

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