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Sep 2, 1998

Gas tank explosion in Orange Walk burns seven

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It sent flames roaring into the afternoon sky and turned human bodies into living torches. And if you’ve always been afraid around tanks of butane gas you’ll now know why. This morning I visited Orange Walk and heard a story that still has me frightened.

Twenty-four hours after the devastating explosion in San Jose Palmar Village, the Jimenez family is still in shock and trying to find out what could have caused their gas tank to explode and burn six family members, and an employee of the Alonso Gas Service Company in Orange Walk Town. According to Diana Canton, who lived next door, it was around three, Tuesday afternoon when she first heard the loud noise.

Diana Canton, Eyewitness

“Well, to tell you the truth, I just didn’t know what really happened because I was sitting there when I heard that and I came out. I didn’t see. They told me that a lot of fire was in the yard; I didn’t see no fire. I just saw those people there shouting for help… and the flames… and they were all in flames.”

The first to run out of the yard in a ball of fire was Jaime Alonso Jr., the gas service attendant.

Raul Canton, Eyewitness

“I saw this guy Alonso, the one that sell the gas, he was dashing out from the immediate area, from the house and he was rolling over and over, trying to out the fire, because he was on fire and he was bleeding from the forehead. He had a hole or something there. I tried to stop him and ask him, to hold him but he refused, like he was a bit wild you know.”

Canton said by the time he reached back across the street, he was overwhelmed by what he saw coming towards him. Twenty-three year old Luz Maria Jimenez, a resident of the home was burning and crying out for help.

Raul Canton

“Ah, she was on fire. Her face, her arms, all over. She had on almost no clothes and she was bawling for help. So it was my wife and I who came out at that time and I sent her back for a blanket or something big, while I picked up a palm leaf and I started outing the fire and the lady dropped there.”

The scene got even more horrifying, as Canton said running behind Jimenez was her three year old daughter, Prinsela Canche who was also engulfed in flames as were two year old Gesnany Canche, Jimenez’s mother in law Irene Canche and sister Nancy Jimenez.

Raul Canton

“And when I saw the baby coming, also she was set on fire. Also by that time my wife had already come back with a big sheet and two of us covered them and started blotting the fire and she was asking for her other babies and upon looking towards the house, I saw that the two year old one had already come out, but she was on fire also and I saw her mother-in-law coming almost without any clothes on. She was set on fire.”

Also badly scorched was Jimenez’s three week old baby, Selena Canche. The little girl was lying on a sofa inside of the house by where the explosion took place.

Jacqueline Woods

“It was at this spot Jaime Alonso junior was filling the tank, when the fifty pound cylinder exploded.”

Fire authorities say from what they have gathered so far, Alonso had already filled the tank and turned off the pump when the tank burst. Eyewitnesses say the tank was launched like a missile, sixty feet into the air, before it came crashing down to the ground.

Sebastian Balam, Eyewitness

“When they found the tank at the end of the yard, the bottom of it was completely off, like it had been sawed off. It flew off. Just that part and the nozzle from the hose from the butane gas tank was still on the tank itself, but the bottom part was not found until afterwards. Somebody found the bottom part on the other side in the other neighbor’s yard.”

Raul Canton

“Well the fire was a big ball and of what we can see, scorches about twenty five yards. That’s a big ball of flames, about twenty yards in diameter, I would say.”

According to Ralton Patnett, the officer in charge of the Orange Walk Fire Station, while they have their theories as to what may have caused the explosion, they cannot pinpoint the cause until their investigation is complete. But from what has been reported so far, it looks like the tank’s original bottom was replaced and the weld could not hold the pressure.

Ralton Patnett, O.I.C., Orange Walk Fire Station

“Well we have, currently we have the gas tank at the Orange Walk Fire Station. As soon as we finish our investigation I guess the authorities from Belize will take the gas tank to Belize City and let the experts have a look at it, cause from our observation the tank has been repaired already. It no have the original bottom on the tank, so it had been tampered with and some kind of welding has been done to it. But we can’t be sure and tell you that da that exactly cause it.”

According to the villagers it is a common practice for households to weld their gas tanks. Although it’s too late for seven villagers, the practice may now become a thing of the past.

Word this evening is that two year old Gesnany Canche has been flown out by air ambulance and is en route to Shriner’s Hospital in Galveston, Texas. Arrangements were coordinated by the organization Friends of Pediatrics and Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital. In a strange coincidence, it turns out that Gesnany is the niece of newly appointed Minister of Health, Servulo Baeza. It was Baeza who transported the little girl to the hospital last night.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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