SAN CRISTOBAL, Dominican Republic (AP) — The death toll from the powerful explosion near the Dominican Republic’s capital rose to 11 on Tuesday, with dozens more injured. Firefighters searched through the smoldering rubble while people gathered outside hospitals searching for missing loved ones.
President Luis Abenader visited San Cristobal, located west of Santo Domingo, to meet with those affected. Officials said another 10 people were missing and authorities were still trying to put out the blaze amid collapsed buildings and charred vehicles.
“The search for survivors was very difficult,” Abu Nader said.
The blast took place on Monday afternoon at a bakery, with authorities investigating the cause of the blast as they vowed to take action if the business was not operating to proper standards.
Juan Manuel Mendez, director of the Emergency Operations Center, said in a news conference Tuesday night that responders found the remains of unidentified people inside one building but are waiting for forensics to determine the number of bodies.
Monday’s blast also injured more than 50 people The blast also hit a crowded shopping centre In San Cristobal, authorities said. Presidential Secretary Joel Santos said at least 36 of the injured were still in hospital.
Stephanie Alcantara said her family was out shopping when the explosion occurred. Her uncle, 42, is hospitalized with serious injuries and her aunt is still missing.
“We don’t know if she’s dead or alive,” she said with teary eyes as she waited outside a local hospital.
Meanwhile, Jenny Penzan de los Santos said that her sister and niece died in the explosion, and that her father is still missing. “They won’t let me into the morgue to see if I can identify my father,” she said.
The country’s emergency telephone system said the blast occurred in a bakery in the city centre, a busy area known as the “Old Market”, where people buy goods ranging from vegetables to clothes. The fire then spread to a nearby hardware store and a nearby furniture store.
Mendez told reporters that more than 500 first responders and officials responded to the blast, which destroyed four buildings and damaged nine others.
Officials said the victims included a four-month-old baby who died of head trauma and a woman who worked at a bank.
Jose Ramon Ramirez Rivera, owner of a local veterinary clinic, told reporters that one of his 15 employees was still missing.
“An office wall fell on top of me,” he recalls. “I couldn’t breathe.”
Juan Jimenez, a farmer who lives several miles away, said he thought it was thunder at first, given the typical August storms. He is now awaiting information about his cousin, the 31-year-old professor who is still missing.
Smoke still engulfed the city center on Tuesday, and Health Secretary Daniel Rivera urged everyone to wear face masks. “This smoke is mixed with chemicals,” he warned.
Rivera and other officials went door-to-door making sure people had masks on and determining if they had any respiratory or skin issues. He also visited patients at a local hospital, as people were still searching for their loved ones.
“The first 24 hours are very important,” he said, adding that injuries included burns, fractures and respiratory problems.
Abinader said the government will set up two mobile hospitals to provide more treatment, including psychological services, to those affected.
On the other hand, Santos said that the government has launched an investigation to determine whether the company where the explosion occurred was operating under the appropriate regulations.
It was not clear what caused the explosion, and the authorities did not provide an initial assessment of the damage.
“These disasters have an order of priority: saving lives, saving assets, making sure the accident is extinguished, and then assessing the damage,” Santos told a news conference.
San Cristobal, the birthplace of dictator Rafael Trujillo, was the site of another explosion nearly 23 years ago. An arms depot exploded in October 2000, killing at least two people and injuring more than two dozen others, forcing the evacuation of thousands by the authorities.
Cotto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
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