BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — A fuel truck fire in Colombia has left seven people dead and more than 40 injured after a large group of people apparently hoping to fill up on gas got caught in the sudden explosion on Monday, authorities said.
Video of the incident shows dozens of people gathered around the vehicle, which had turned on its side in the grass off a highway 40 miles (65 kilometers) east of Barranquilla, along Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
A large cloud of fire suddenly erupted, sending people running, some so severely burned they were left with barely any clothes.
“This is a tragedy,” Fabian Obispo, the mayor of nearby Pueblo Viejo, said. “Many families right now don’t know where their children are.”
Investigators believe the driver crashed after momentarily falling asleep around 8:30 a.m., police said. Video shared by local media outlets shows a group of men gathering near the vehicle, many carrying empty plastic tanks. Others had approached hoping to help the driver or simply to watch the commotion.
Some of the dead were so badly burned they could not immediately be identified.
“This is a very painful situation,” President Iván Duque said. “We are analyzing the causes.”
The incident comes as Colombia’s Caribbean coast is grappling with an uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospital beds are increasingly full. Pueblo Viejo has the third highest mortality rate in Colombia from the virus, at 915 per 1 million residents.
On Twitter, some decried the fire as an example of the desperation many in Colombia are experiencing as a result of both the pandemic’s economic blow and years of inattention to poor communities outside big cities.
Sen. Armando Benedetti said the incident reveals longstanding issues like lack of state presence and severe poverty and inequality.
“All this because they were looking for a way to survive,” he wrote.