The death toll from a powerful explosion in the Dominican Republic this week has risen to 27, as firefighters continued efforts to extinguish the ongoing blaze, the country’s national emergency director said.
Juan Manuel Mendez, director of the Emergency Operations Center, also said on Wednesday that there were no longer any people believed missing.
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Earlier, authorities cited 10 missing but said that would change as forensic officials identified bodies found by search teams.
Officials said the explosion began on Monday with a fire near a bakery in the city of San Cristobal, which lies just west of the capital of Santo Domingo. The emergency responders have not been able to fully access the building where the explosion occurred.
Anguished friends and family have been pacing outside hospitals and morgues in anger and frustration, saying no one has been providing them with information.
Meanwhile, authorities are probing what might have caused the explosion, vowing to crack down on any business that might not have been following regulations.
Ito Bisono, minister of industry and commerce, told reporters that officials already have determined there were no tanks of any type in the area, adding that he is waiting on authorities to investigate what happened.
“It was of great magnitude,” he said of the explosion.
Bisono spoke inside a cathedral in San Cristobal that held a service Wednesday for those who died, with mourners dressed largely in white filling the building until there was standing room only.
Mendez, of the Emergency Operations Center, said at a news conference late on Tuesday that, if an unidentified factory was operating illegally as some residents have alleged, the investigation would shed light on that.
“If there is some type of culpability or not, the investigation will determine that,” he said. “We will take legal action.”
At least 59 people were injured in the blast, which occurred in a bustling commercial area in the city’s centre and destroyed four buildings and damaged nine others.
More than 30 people remain hospitalised with conditions including fractures, burns and respiratory problems. Two firefighters also were treated for smoke inhalation.
More than 30 ambulances and some 500 personnel including rescuers and officials responded to the incident.
Toxic smoke still hovered over the explosion site, with health officials urging people to wear face masks.
San Cristobal, the birthplace of dictator Rafael Trujillo, was the site of another explosion nearly 23 years ago. An arms depot blew up in October 2000, killing at least two people and injuring more than two dozen others, forcing authorities to evacuate thousands.