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Death toll in Peru gas tanker blast rises to eight: ministry

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Lima (AFP)

The death toll from a powerful gas tanker explosion that ripped through a district of Lima rose to eight on Friday, after four more victims succumbed to severe burn injuries overnight, Peru's health ministry said.

Dozens were wounded, some severely, when the truck tanker carrying 10,000 liters of liquefied gas exploded and ignited a major fire on Thursday that destroyed several houses and vehicles in the capital's Villa El Salvador district.

"It is very unfortunate because of the magnitude and consequences. A tragedy," said President Martin Vizcarra, who called for an urgent investigation into the cause.

"According to the latest report we have eight people dead," a health ministry spokesman told AFP.

Health Minister Maria Elizabeth Hinostrozo said several survivors among the 48 being treated in hospital are in a "very serious" condition.

"They are being given full support, but the first week is critical," Hinostrozo told reporters.

Health authorities have appealed for blood donations.

Among those who died of their injuries overnight were a 17-year-old youth and a 38-year-old man who had burns to 100 percent of his body, the ministry said.

"Andres Asto arrived yesterday badly burned. Unfortunately, he died at 0340 local time," said Rosario Kiyohara, head of Lima's Dos de Mayo hospital.

Two people died shortly after the accident, which happened early Thursday morning as the tanker truck approached an intersection in the capital's Villa El Salvador district.

- Severe burns -

One man died at the scene and shortly afterwards, a nine-year-old girl died of cardiac arrest in hospital after suffering severe burns, health officials said.

Investigators believe the explosion was caused when a fuel hose became detached as the truck tanker passed over a speed bump as it approached an intersection.

The 72-year-old driver, Luis Guzman, originally reported to have died in the fire, told reporters from his hospital bed that the bottom of the tanker was torn open as it went over the bump.

"All the gas began to flow out," he said.

Guzman said he managed to jump out of the cab before the gas ignited, but suffered injuries to his lungs.

The resulting blaze engulfed 14 nearby homes in the densely populated district, which firefighters fought for three hours to bring under control, fire department chief Alfonso Panizo told state television.

Dozens of vehicles were also destroyed.

The company operating the tanker, Transgas, was shut down by local authorities after the accident for not having an operating license as well as a valid security certification.

Peru's energy and mining supervisory agency opened an investigation, and locals criticized the local authorities for the poor state of the street.

- Dodging a fireball -

One survivor, Javier Garcia, said that when he saw a fireball moving towards him down the street he ran in the opposite direction.

"I heard the gas coming out of the truck and told myself that it would explode at any moment. I just ran and then felt my arm burn," Garcia told El Comercio newspaper.

"Happily, the neighbors helped me. I was lucky because there are others who suffered burns to their whole bodies," said Garcia, who also suffered facial burns.

The intersection is situated just a few blocks from the athletes village that housed thousands of athletes from across the continent when Lima hosted the 2019 Pan American games.

"I saw a huge wave of orange fire that reached many people as they were running," said Alejandro Meza, who escaped unharmed.

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