The death toll from a powerful explosion near the capital of the Dominican Republic rose to 10 on Tuesday as firefighters searched through smouldering rubble, authorities said.
More than 50 people were injured in Monday’s explosion at a bustling commercial center in the city of San Cristobal, located just west of Santo Domingo.
At least 36 of the injured remained hospitalised, according to Joel Santos, minister of the presidency.
Local media reported that an additional 11 people were missing.
Health Minister Daniel Rivera said authorities have still not been able to access “ground zero” where the explosion occurred because it was still burning.
The country’s emergency telephone system said the explosion occurred at a bakery in the city’s centre, a bustling area known as “Old Marketplace” where people buy goods ranging from vegetables to clothes.
The fire then spread to a hardware store next door and a nearby furniture store.
Among the victims was a 4-month-old baby who died from head trauma and a woman who worked at a bank, officials said.
José Ramón Ramírez Rivera, the owner of a local veterinary clinic, told reporters that one of his 15 employees is still missing.
“An office wall fell on top of me,” he recalled. “I couldn’t breathe.”
Smoke still smothered the city’s centre on Tuesday, and Rivera urged everyone to wear face masks.
“This smoke is mixed with chemicals,” he warned.
Rivera said he and other officials will go door to door to ensure that people have masks and determine whether they had any respiratory or skin problems.
He also is expected to visit patients at a local hospital where people were still searching for loved ones.
“The first 24 hours are very important,” he said, adding that injuries included burns, fractures and respiratory problems.
President Luis Abinader was expected to travel later Tuesday to the site, where authorities were still trying to extinguish the fire amid collapsed buildings and charred vehicles.
Santos said the government is launching an investigation to determine whether the business where the explosion occurred was operating under the proper regulations.
It wasn’t clear what caused the explosion, and authorities have not provided a preliminary estimate of damages.
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