BARRANQUILLA, Colombia – At least seven people died and 40 were injured on Monday when a tanker truck filled with gasoline flipped over and later caught fire on the highway between the Colombian cities of Barranquilla and Santa Marta, local authorities said.
The blaze occurred at the town of Puebloviejo, in the Caribbean province of Magdalena, when residents of the area were gathered around the tanker truck, evidently to try and siphon off fuel from the as-yet-unignited vehicle.
“Unfortunately, the report is that at least seven people were burned to death and 40 others suffered serious burns,” said the Ruta del Sol II agency that manages the highway where the crash took place.
Puebloviejo Mayor Fabian David Ospino said on the social networks that “at least seven people were burned to death in this tragic accident,” adding that the number of injured could be as high as 50.
The director of the Magdalena provincial Risk Management Office, Javier Pava, told EFE that because of the seriousness of their burns, 17 of the injured were transported to hospitals in Santa Maria, Barranquilla and Valledupar.
“So far, those transfers have been made, but we’re continuing to evaluate other people who were injured in the accident to determine if they should be transported,” the official added.
Ruta del Sol II added in its statement that when its personnel arrived at the site to deal with the crash “work was interrupted by a group of townspeople who arrived on motorcycles and on foot to remove gasoline from the vehicle involved in the accident.”
“Despite the fact that Ruta del Sol II personnel, in conjunction with police officers, tried to persuade (them) about the danger in the area, many people ignored them and continued filling (containers) with the fuel,” the statement said, adding that “the huge presence of people impeded the site from being cordoned off.”
The highway management agency also said that “the truck did not explode, but it was consumed by the sudden flames without there being time to react for those who were nearby.”
Circulating on the social networks were images taken by the public with cellphones in which a large number of people are seen around the tanker truck lying on its side, along with several photos of the victims of the blaze, with burns on different parts of their bodies, running to seek help.
Puebloviejo is a town with a high incidence of poverty, located on Salamanca Island, a slender area of land between the Great Swamp of Santa Marta and the Caribbean Sea.