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A fuel tanker exploded overnight in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti’s second-largest city, killing at least 59 people and wounding dozens more, officials said Tuesday.

The blast in the port city some 124 miles north of Port-au-Prince caused extensive damage, Prime Minister Ariel Henry said in a tweet. Images showed flames turning a night sky bright red and orange.

“Three days of national mourning will be decreed throughout the territory, in memory of the victims of this tragedy that the entire Haitian nation is grieving,” Henry said in a tweet. “Field hospitals will be quickly deployed in Cap-Haïtien to provide the necessary care to the victims of this terrible explosion.”

Nelson Deshommes, a spokesman for the mayor’s office in Cap-Haïtien, said he visited the scene of the explosion early Tuesday morning. First responders were removing corpses, including many burned beyond the point of recognition, he said.

“It’s sad. They were piling bodies on a truck,” Deshommes said. “It’s too difficult for me to see what’s going on.”

The explosion is the latest in seemingly endless calamities to rock the Caribbean nation this year.

Haiti, saddled by endemic poverty, is being led by an interim government after its president was assassinated in July. A massive earthquake the next month killed more than 2,000 people and injured scores more. Powerful gangs have stepped in to fill a leadership vacuum, kidnapping Haitians from all walks of life.

In recent months, the country had been left virtually paralyzed by a fuel shortage that hit hospitals and schools, which rely on diesel generators for electricity. Many businesses were closed and transportation workers took part in a nationwide strike to protest the crippling shortages.

Gangs were in part to blame for the fuel crisis, officials said. Many had hijacked fuel trucks and kidnapped their drivers or blocked fuel distribution at ports.

Patrick Almonor, one of Cap-Haïtien’s three mayors, said the fuel tanker capsized shortly after midnight, sending gas spilling into a ditch. As locals came to collect some of the gas, the truck exploded, he said. Firefighters arrived with 1,500 gallons of water, but could not extinguish the flames and had to call for aid from airport firefighters.

Almonor said the incident appeared to be an accident.

Deshommes said the largest hospital in the city is no longer operating after it was attacked by armed bandits in November, so victims from the explosion have been sent to other facilities, which lack resources.

Merancourt reported from San Salvador and Coletta from Toronto.


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