By Shikema Dey and Stacy Peters
An explosion at the Guyana Defence Forces Coastguard Wharf at Ruimveldt has left eight persons nursing burns and trauma injuries about their bodies. At least one person is considered to be in a critical condition.
Kaieteur News understands that the massive explosion occurred at around 14:30pm yesterday as the ranks of the Artillery Unit were offloading imported fireworks to be used in the 50th Republic Anniversary Fireworks display.
According to reports, the truck laden with fireworks on the pontoon spontaneously combusted resulting in a massive explosion that sent the ranks scattering for cover, many plunging into the Demerara River to avoid injuries.
When Kaieteur News arrived on the scene, firefighters had already put out the blaze. The injured soldiers were being rushed to the Georgetown Public Hospital.
Those injured were identified as Lt. Cpl. Trevor Joseph, 35; Cpl Terrence Neil, 26; Cpl. Andrew Gordon Cornette, 34; Staff Sgt. Otto Row, 35; Cpl. Victor Lowe, 25; Cpl Delroy Baird, 28; along with Diah Gordon and Cpl. Sean Rose.
Residents around the area told Kaieteur News that explosion propelled debris several meters into the air. Located next to the wharf is a fishery and fishermen there explained that some of their equipment was damaged.
“They went loading the stuff on the truck and then all you hear is a big explosion and fire start. Then about five more explosions. People start jumping off the pontoon into the river to out the fire on their skin. One guy, when he walk out, he got skin hang off he. Another one, all you seeing is white; nothing else.”
The Forces’ Medical Officer, Dr. Nigel Langhorne, speaking to reporters at the Georgetown Public Hospital said that Cpl. Sean Rose reportedly sustained burns to 90% of his body and is said to be in a very critical condition.
“Of the injured soldiers, we have one who is very critical; he would have sustained burns to more than 90 per cent body surface burns. And his prognosis is not well. The other two injured; they are in critical conditions.”
Kaieteur News was informed that Rose suffered a heart attack while receiving medical attention.
President David Granger visited the scene of the explosion and later spoke to reporters at the hospital. According to the Head of State, the ranks did extensive training to ensure safety.
“These are experts. These are some people who go overseas, who went to Barbados to train for the 50th Independence anniversary in 2018. Some of the very persons involved went to Barbados. These were not untrained.
“These were expert people who’ve been doing this over and over again. But as far as we are concerned, we have always applied the best safety measures, to ensure that the soldiers’ lives are not in jeopardy.”
Granger stated that the pyrotechnics were imported from overseas and stressed that a full investigation will be conducted to determine what happened.
“We are trying to get to the bottom of it. This occurred about 2:30 pm and eight soldiers were injured…But right now, the Guyana Defence Force Board will ensure every possible measure for the recovery of the injured soldiers.
“The families are here, I spoke with the families…It is something unexpected, particularly because of the level of training and professionalism of the unit.”
The unit was set to perform last night outside of the Stabroek Market for the 50th Republic Anniversary Fireworks display. But with this mishap, the display has been cancelled.
“Needless to say, the fireworks display has been cancelled. It is impossible to go on.”
Meanwhile, Chief of Staff, Brigadier Patrick West told reporters that the unit held its rehearsals for the display on Friday evening around 10:00 pm. That went without hiccups.
“Our rehearsals were done (Friday) evening at 20:22 hrs and during those rehearsals, we had no challenges; it was well done. And we were satisfied at the end of the rehearsals that we could have done the display today.
“As they were preparing for the display today, they encountered some challenges, and there was some form of spontaneous combustion we believed that caused these detonations and the resulting injures.”
According to Brigadier West, a complete Commission of Inquiry will be conducted to get to the bottom of it and to determine what measures you can take to make sure that there is no reoccurrence.
The Chief of Staff also praised the Guyana Fire Service and the Emergency Medical Service for their immediate response.
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