Raging fire at Cuban oil depot leaves 80 injured and 17 firefighters missing | Cuba

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

Firefighters and other specialists were still trying to put out the blaze at the supertanker base in Matanzas, where the blaze broke out during a thunderstorm on Friday evening, the Ministry of Energy and Mines tweeted. . The government later said it had sought help from international experts in “friendly countries” with experience in the oil sector.

Cuba’s official news agency said lightning struck a tank, starting a fire, and the fire then spread to a second tank. As military helicopters flew overhead dropping water on the blaze, a dense column of black smoke billowed from the facility and spread westward over more than 100 km (62 miles) towards Havana.

Oil storage tanks burn at the Matanzas supertanker base. Photograph: Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters

Matanzas fire operations chief Roberto de la Torre said firefighters were spraying water on intact tanks trying to keep them cool in hopes of stopping the blaze from spreading.

The Matanzas provincial government’s Facebook page said the number of injured had reached 77, while 17 people were missing. The presidency of the republic said that the 17 were “firefighters who were in the nearest area to try to prevent the spread”.

Seven of the injured were taken to Calixto García Hospital in Havana, which has a large burn unit.

The crash comes as Cuba grapples with fuel shortages. There was no immediate word on how much oil had burned or was at risk at the storage facility, which has eight giant tanks containing oil used to fuel power plants.

“I was in the gymnasium when I felt the first explosion. A column of smoke and a terrible fire rose into the sky,” Adiel Gonzalez told The Associated Press. “The city has a strong smell of sulfur .”

Authorities said around 800 people had been evacuated from the Dubrocq neighborhood closest to the fire, while Gonzalez added that some people had decided to leave the Versailles neighborhood, a little further from the stockyard.

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Numerous ambulances, police and fire engines were seen on the streets of Matanzas, a city of around 140,000 people located in Matanzas Bay.

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel visited the scene of the fire early Saturday, officials said.

Local meteorologist Elier Pila showed satellite images of the area with a dense plume of black smoke moving west from the point of the fire and reaching as far east as Havana.

“This plume can reach nearly 150 km in length,” Pila wrote on his Twitter account.

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