More than 500 evacuated in ship fire near Puerto Rico
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – More than 500 passengers and crew were being evacuated on Wednesday from a burning ship about a mile off Puerto Rico's north coast.
The fire was still burning aboard the Caribbean Fantasy, a combination cruise and ferry vessel, as the U.S. Coast Guard began bringing passengers into the San Juan harbor while helicopters whirred overheard.
The Coast Guard said all passengers had been evacuated, though it was still rescuing 26 crew members.
The ship was arriving in San Juan when the fire broke out, Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad said.
Gyno Funes said he was one of two mechanics in the control room when a hose carrying fuel burst open and caught on fire.
"We were trying to extinguish it for two hours, but couldn't," said the other mechanic, Marlon Doblado, after the two reached shore.
The extent of injuries was not immediately clear. Several dozen people who were carried in on stretchers were being treated for dehydration, high blood pressure and respiratory problems from the smoke, said fire department spokesman Juan Vega. One stretcher held a man hooked up to an IV who was cradling a bawling newborn baby clad only in a diaper.
The injured were followed by a small group of children who held hands as they disembarked the Coast Guard boats.
The mostly Dominican passengers included dozens of school-age athletes headed to competitions in Puerto Rico, including a 22-member cycling team, a girls' volleyball team and a boys' baseball team.
Passengers found to be in good health were loaded onto city buses to be taken out of the area. They included Fiordalise Pitchard, who traveled to Puerto Rico on vacation.
"I feel nervous," she said, her hands trembling. "I was in the restaurant when I saw the smoke. I'm giving all the glory to the Lord today."
Anguished relatives of passengers, including Hilda Pereira, pushed their way onto the scene. Her daughter, whom she has not seen for 14 years, was aboard the boat.
Pereira said she was at the beauty salon when her sister called to notify her.
"She said, 'You need to be strong,'" Pereira said. "The ferry has caught on fire."
The fire erupted in the engine room and was spreading to the rest of the ship, Miami-based Coast Guard spokeswoman Marilyn Fajardo said by phone.
The ships run several times weekly between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic..
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