Firefighters battle massive flames at Cuban tank farm for 2nd day
HAVANA – Cuban firefighters joined special teams sent by Mexico and Venezuela on Sunday as they battled for a second day to control a fire burning at a large oil-storage farm in Matanzas province. West of this country.
The fire started Friday night when lightning struck one storage tank during a thunder storm, and the blaze spread to a second storage tank early Saturday, triggering a series of explosions, officials said. .
Authorities on Sunday said a body found at the site had been identified as 60-year-old firefighter Juan Carlos Santana. Officials earlier said a group of 17 firefighters had gone missing while trying to put out the blaze, but there was no word if he was one of them.
A total of 122 people were treated for their injuries, including five in critical condition, officials said.
Provincial Governor Mario Sabines on Sunday said 4,946 people had been evacuated, mostly from the Dubrocq area, next to Matanzas Super Ship Base in the city of Matanzas. The facility’s eight huge storage tanks contain oil used to generate electricity.
Dense black smoke rose from the tank farm and spread more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) west to Havana. The Ministry of Science and Technology on Sunday said the cloud contained sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and other harmful substances.
The disaster came as Cuba grapples with a severe economic and energy crisis, with frequent power outages during a harsh summer. It is unknown how much fuel was lost to the fire.
The Cuban government appealed for help on Saturday from the oil nations, and dedicated fire crews began arriving with their equipment from Mexico and Venezuela late Saturday.
“The assistance[is]in preventing the risk and also helping to extinguish the fire with water and foam based cooling,” Mexico Brig said. General Juan Bravo said upon arrival. “We hope that more support will come soon, such as chemical materials.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossío said Saturday evening that the US government had offered technical assistance. On his Twitter account, he said “the proposal is in the hands of experts for proper coordination.”
Minutes later, President Miguel Díaz-Canel thanked Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile for their offers of help.
Andrea Rodríguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP