SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, Tuesday March 26, 2013 – A young tourist was injured after she picked up an old shell containing white phosphorous from a popular Puerto Rican beach, local authorities said on Friday.
The live munition was said to have been dropped by the US Navy when it used the island of Culebra for bombing practice and other military activities from 1939 to 1975, later relocating operations to the nearby island of Vieques.
White phosphorus is an incendiary agent often used in warfare to create smoke screens. It can also cause severe burns.
The accident took place on Thursday as the child’s family waited to board the ferry in Culebra to return to mainland Puerto Rico, according to police officer Mario Alvarez.
“She was carrying it in her hand,” Alvarez said. “It dropped on the floor and activated itself.”
The girl suffered burns, although the extent of her injury was unclear, the officer continued.
The child was believed to be seven-years-old, but her exact age and name were unknown because her family initially refused medical treatment for her in Culebra.
Alvarez said that she was later taken to a hospital after arriving at Puerto Rico’s northeast coastal town of Fajardo.
Flamenco beach, where the shell was found, attracts thousands of tourists every year.
The girl reportedly picked up the shell near a rusty military tank that sits along the beach’s western point and has long been a popular backdrop for photographs.
Six other live bombs were found near the spot where the girl picked up the shell, and Alvarez said that FBI agents and police arrived in Culebra on Friday to detonate the munitions.
The accident and discovery of additional bombs took place as thousands of tourists and Puerto Ricans headed to Culebra for the Easter holidays.
This latest discovery of live munitions has rekindled outrage among Puerto Ricans and environmental activists who have long demanded a thorough clean-up by the Navy. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)