17 people missing, dozens injured when fire breaks out at oil tank farm in Cuba

HAVANA – A fire sparked by lightning strikes at an oil storage facility raged on Saturday in the city of Matanzas, where four explosions and flames injured nearly 80 people, Cuban authorities said. and 17 firefighters are missing, Cuban authorities said.

Firefighters and other professionals are still trying to extinguish the blaze at Matanzas Supertanker Base, where the fire started on a stormy night Friday, the Department of Energy and Mines posted on Twitter. The Government later said it had asked for help from international experts in “friendly countries” with experience in the oil sector.

Cuba’s official news agency said lightning struck one tank, which began to burn and the flames then spread to a second tank. As military helicopters flying overhead dropped water onto the flames, thick columns of black smoke rose from the base and spread more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) westward toward Havana.

The Matanzas provincial government’s Facebook page said the number of injured had risen to 77, while 17 were missing. The Republican president said 17 people were “firefighters who are in the closest area trying to stop the spread.”

The accident happened as Cuba was struggling with fuel shortages. There is no immediate information on how much oil has burned or is in danger at the storage facility, where eight huge oil storage tanks are used to fuel power generation plants.

“I was in the gym when I felt the first bang. A terrible column of smoke and flames rose in the sky,” resident Adiel Gonzalez told The Associated Press by phone. “The city has a strong sulfur smell.”

Authorities said the Dubrocq neighborhood closest to the fire had been evacuated, while Gonzalez added that some people had decided to move out of the Versailles district, which is a bit further from the tank farm.

Several ambulances, police and fire engines were seen on the streets of Matanzas, a city of about 140,000 people located on Matnzas Bay.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel arrived at the fire site early Saturday, officials said.

Local meteorologist Elier Pila showed satellite images of the area with a thick plume of black smoke moving from the fire site west and east to Havana.

“That tuft of fur could be almost 150 kilometers long,” Pila wrote on her Twitter account.


Andrea Rodríguez on Twitter:

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