SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) – The death toll from this week’s powerful explosion in the Dominican Republic rose to 27 on Wednesday as firefighters continued efforts to extinguish the persistent fire set off by the blast, the national emergency director said.
Juan Manuel Méndez, director of the Center of Emergency Operations, also said there were no longer any people believed missing. Earlier, authorities cited 10 missing but said that would change as forensic officials identified bodies found by search teams.
Firefighters still have not been able to fully put out the fires in a building where the explosion occurred Monday at a bakery in the city of San Cristobal, which lies just west of the capital of Santo Domingo.
Anguished friends and family have been pacing outside hospitals and morgues in anger and frustration, saying no one has been providing them 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 Bisonó, 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.
Bisonó 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 to standing room only.
Méndez, said at a news conference late 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 center and destroyed four buildings and damaged nine others. More than 30 people remain hospitalized 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 exploded in October 2000, killing at least two people and injured more than two dozen others, forcing authorities to evacuate thousands.
Associated Press reporter Dánica Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
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