At least 75 people have died after a petrol tanker overturned and exploded in northern Haiti, unleashing a fireball that swept through homes and businesses.

It is understood the tanker rolled while trying to avoid hitting a motorcycle, exploding into flames on Tuesday evening, local time, in the city of Cap-Haitien.

Dozens of bodies lined the streets of the explosion site, while locals rushed to the area with buckets to salvage any petrol from the truck.

Haiti is in the midst of severe fuel shortages and facing skyrocketing fuel prices, which has crippled hospitals, schools and businesses.

The situation also prompted both US and Canada’s governments to urge its citizens to come home.

‘We lost so many lives’

Two women in hospital gowns administer fluids to a burns victim as they lay under foil in the back of a van
At least 75 people died after a tanker carrying gasoline exploded. (AP: Joseph Odelyn)

Buildings and overturned vehicles were still smouldering hours after the explosion, as firefighters covered the burned bodies and loaded them onto a truck.

Hundreds of Haitians watched on from rooftops in disbelief at the loss of life.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who is a physician, visited the victims in hospital who were bandaged head to toe or fighting for their lives.

Deputy Mayor of Cap-Haitien, Patrick Almonor, expressed shock over the incident.

“It’s horrible what happened,” he said.

A man wrapped in gauze and bandages sits with head down on a hospital bed as doctors work around him
 Doctors without Borders is assisting local hospital staff treat burns victims. (AP: Joseph Odelyn)

Among the survivors were Riche Joseph, who spent hours on the floor of Justinien University Hospital connected to a fluid drip while he waited for a bed.

Bruna Lourdes, Mr Joseph’s sister, said he had left their family home late at night to get food.

After hearing the explosion, she rushed from the hillside shantytown in panic.

“I’m praying to God that he won’t take his life,” Ms Lourdes said.

Abraham Joanis’s home was one of the 50 houses that caught fire after the explosion.

He carried around a guitar that he rescued from the charred remains of his home.

A firefighter stands next to the remains of a charred black truck that was carrying gasoline and exploded
A firefighter stands beside the charred remains of the tanker. (AP: Joseph Odelyn)

“Right away, I left with my family, and I headed the other way to the bridge,” he said.

Desperation in Haiti forced impoverished locals to scramble for petrol due to severe shortages, and this is being given as a reason for the high death toll.

Haitians have been on the brink since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July, as well as a 7.2-magnitude earthquake just weeks later that claimed 2,200 lives and destroyed tens of thousands of homes.

Haiti also has also seen a spike in gang-related kidnappings, including 17 US missionaries who were abducted in October.

Five have so far been released but 12 are still being held captive.

Hospitals not equipped for victims

Hospitals in Cap-Haitien seemed ill-equipped to handle the disaster and 15 victims were evacuated by air to hospitals in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Some burns victims were being treated by teams from Doctors Without Borders.

The non-governmental organisation’s medical coordinator, Jean-Gilbert Ndong, said treating burns victims was complex.

“Surviving and recovering from a severe burn is a difficult process that requires specialised medical care, often for weeks or months,” Dr Ndong said.