A huge explosion destroyed a busy market in San Cristobal near Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on Monday, killing 12 people and injuring more than 30 others. The latest reports are that 55 people are missing, so the death toll is very likely to rise. Although the cause of the exposion has not been officially stated, initial reports said that the probable cause of the explosion was a gas tanker truck fire, or a fire that started in a bakery and spread to a neighboring hardware store.
Investigations into the cause of the fire are ongoing.
According to some reports, the explosion could have originated in a hardware store, and then spread to nearby establishments such as a plastics factory between Doctor Brioso and Padre Ayala streets, in Villa Valdez in San Cristóbal, according to reports in Diario Libre.
Charred cars and debris from several collapsed buildings lined the streets as thick, black smoke rose from the city’s centre and enveloped several blocks, prompting businesses to evacuate while crowds gathered to film the aftermath. Some said they thought it was a bomb or an earthquake.
The area is known as “Old Marketplace,” where many people shop daily for goods ranging from produce to apparel.
The victims included a 4-month-old baby who died from a head injury and two adults whose bodies were 90 per cent burned, according to a statement from Dr Mario Lama, director of the National Health Service. A local bank confirmed one of its female employees died in the explosion.
At least 39 people were reported injured as of late Monday night.
The death toll is expected to increase, with firefighters unable to enter certain buildings while continuing to fight the fire. At least 14 fire engines have been involved on the scene.
As health officials announced the death of three people, civil defence authorities were seen removing the bodies of two people who lay on the street hours after the explosion.
“Our main objective here has been to safeguard the greatest number of human lives,” Joel Santos, minister of the presidency, said during a news conference.
Dominican President Luis Abinader said he dispatched a government team to San Cristobal, adding that officials have been tending to victims and their families from the start.
Pura Casilla, the governor of San Cristobal province, told Noticias SIN that the explosion occurred in a commercial area and greatly affected businesses near the town centre.
Firefighters were still battling the blaze late Monday night, and authorities ordered people to clear the area, warning that other buildings could collapse.
Government officials arrived on scene, including legislator Franklin Rodríguez, who told local media he was worried about people’s health and safety given the heavy smoke still streaming from several buildings.
“These buildings are very weak,” he said.
He added that toll roads leading to San Cristobal were closed to traffic to allow more ambulances into the area, with dozens of people rushing to nearby hospitals and clinics to search for loved ones. Some cried outside the main hospital as others hugged them for comfort.
Source: El Diario Libre. Listin Diario, News agencies.