October 25, 2009 in Nation/World

Puerto Rico fire a threat to health

Danica Coto Associated Press
 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Thousands of people living on the outskirts of a burning fuel-storage site in Puerto Rico were urged to relocate Saturday to avoid toxic smoke still billowing from the fire.

More than 1,500 people were evacuated after Friday’s earthshaking explosion at the Caribbean Petroleum Corp. in the suburb of Bayamon, just west of the capital of San Juan.

Only a few people were slightly injured by the blast, which broke windows, tore doors off their hinges and shook the ground. But authorities are now concerned about those downwind of the fire, with breezes pushing smoke toward more populated neighborhoods.

Authorities urged residents – especially those with respiratory problems – who live near the site to move elsewhere temporarily until the fire is extinguished and the smoke brought under control.

“To those people with respiratory problems, our recommendation is that you not wait,” Gov. Luis Fortuno said.

Several people have sought medical help for respiratory distress, and one firefighter was treated Saturday for exposure to high temperatures, Fortuno said.

Fortuno said a large stadium has been prepared to accommodate some 30,000 people who live in the area, if necessary.

The cause of the explosion is still under investigation. Fifteen of 40 fuel tanks caught fire, and five were still burning Saturday.

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