PORT-AU-PRINCE — More than 50 people were killed and scores more were wounded around midnight on Tuesday when a truck carrying gasoline exploded in northern Haiti, according to officials in the country and the region.
The truck, carrying 9,000 gallons of fuel, had swerved and toppled over in a residential area of the city of Cap-Haïtien, according to local officials and witnesses. A crowd gathered to siphon off its gas and it exploded, scorching everything in a hundred-yard radius, said Frandy Jean, 49, head of firefighters for northern Haiti.
“It’s the first time since I’ve been a firefighter, in over 17 years, that I have lived such a catastrophe,” Mr. Jean, 49, said. “In terms of bodies that we have counted and put in bags and that justice of peace have accounted, we are at about 50 for the moment and counting.”
Haiti’s electrical grid is unreliable, so everyone — residents, but also banks, hospitals and businesses — relies on generators for power. But the country has been enduring a severe fuel crisis over the last few months, as the gangs that control access to fuel terminals have blocked deliveries.
This has left Haitians desperate for fuel, witness said, and willing to risk approaching the downed truck to collect gas.
Videos and photos shared on social media showed flames erupting and black smoke billowing into the air above what appeared to be the charred carcass of a truck.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry, writing on Twitter, confirmed that the explosion and resulting fire had killed and injured scores of people. He said medical teams were being dispatched to the site, and he declared three days of mourning.
The two major hospitals were both overwhelmed by dozens of people needing help, hospital officials said, and were asking from help from other hospitals and the public because they lack even the most basic supplies, such as sheets.
The wounded included burn victims, officials said, and those who were trampled as people fled the scene.
The country’s services, long in a state of disrepair, have been battered as Haiti has been rocked by cascading tragedies.
Since July, when President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, the Caribbean island nation has suffered a devastating earthquake and flash floods, disasters that left over 2,000 dead and many more injured and displaced.
The natural disasters have been compounded by poverty, hunger and increasing violence.
In recent months, a severe fuel shortage pushed the nation even deeper into collapse. Gangs, not the government, now control large areas of the country, and they have taken advantage of the need for fuel, hijacking gas trucks at will and blocking deliveries. Many truck drivers refused to work in October, in a nationwide strike that paralyzed the country.
Former Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who briefly took control of Haiti’s government immediately after the assassination, said that he was heartbroken by the news of the explosion.
“I share the pain and sorrow of all the people,” he wrote on Twitter.