Police and traffic officials are investigating the cause of an explosion Monday on the Inter-American Highway, which killed two people and stalled vehicles for almost 24 hours in traffic waiting to pass over a vital part of the road that connects the Guanacaste and Puntarenas provinces.
At around 2:30 p.m. Monday, three cars heading north collided on a highway bridge above the Lagarto river, which forms the boundary the two provinces, according to the Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT).
Officials said the first vehicle, a van driven by two “foreigners,” was struck in the rear as it crossed the bridge. The second car was then struck from behind by a tanker truck, which carried several thousand liters of diesel gasoline. The impact caused the sandwiched car to burst into flames, which then spread onto the body of the tanker truck. Two riders in the middle car, Ronny Aguilar, 18, and René Umaña, 57, perished due to injuries and burns sustained in the accident.
As powerful flames emanated from the charred vehicles, firemen worked through the night to quell the blaze and to remove the tanker to avoid a considerably larger explosion. According to MOPT, area firemen were able to remove the tanker and clean over 5,000 liters of diesel fuel from the bridge by Tuesday morning.
“The heat from the fire was too intense for firemen to enter the bridge yesterday (Monday) and last night,” said Omar Segura, a press officer for MOPT, told The Tico Times. “Early this morning they were able to remove the tanker and the fuel to assure that no further damage was done to the bridge.”
Segura said that after the vehicles and debris from the accident were removed, roadway officials and ministry engineers performed an extensive inspection of the bridge foundation and structure and deemed that only “secondary damage” had occurred.
By noon Tuesday, cars and trucks that had been waiting to cross the bridge heading north to Guanacaste or south to Puntarenas were again permitted to cross, as traffic police guided cars across the one opened lane of the bridge.
According to witnesses, the first van stopped abruptly to avoid a hole in the bridge. Segura said MOPT had covered the hole in December and that officials are investigating to find out if the hole was uncovered or materials used to cover the hole became dislodged sometime in December or January.