Cuba has asked for help to contain a massive fire at a fuel depot that has left at least one person dead, 121 people injured and 17 firefighters missing.
Some 1900 people have been evacuated from the affected area in western Matanzas province, where lightning struck a fuel tank late on Friday, triggering an explosion.
The first body was recovered at the site on Saturday night.
The wounded included Energy Minister Livan Arronte.
The Cuban President’s office said 17 firefighters were missing, those “who were closest” to the fire in an industrial zone of Matanzas, a city some 100km east of Havana. “Cuba requested help and advice from friendly countries with experience in fuel” to help put out the fire, the presidency added in a statement.
Later in the day, President Miguel Diaz-Canel expressed thanks to the governments of Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile, “which have promptly offered material aid”.
“We also appreciate the offer of technical advice from the US,” he added. The US embassy in Havana said on Twitter: “We want to make clear that US law authorises US entities and organizations to provide disaster relief and response in Cuba.” The US has had sanctions against the communist state for six decades.
The fire broke out after a bolt of lightning struck a tank on Friday at the depot on the outskirts of Matanzas, a city of 140,000. By the early hours of Saturday, the fire had spread to a second tank, causing another blast.
Helicopters were hard at work fighting the blaze on Saturday, with ambulances, water tanks and cranes at the scene. Exhausted firefighters were at the plant, waiting to enter to look for their comrades who seemingly could not escape the second explosion.
“We felt the blast, like a shockwave that pushed you back,” Laura Martinez, a resident of La Ganadera, near the disaster zone, told AFP.
Mr Diaz-Canel said extinguishing the blaze “could take time”, while Asbel Leal, director of the Cupet state oil company, said the country had never experienced a fire “of the magnitude we have today”.
According to Cupet, the first tank contained about 26,000 cubic metres of crude, about half its capacity, when it was struck by lightning. The second contained 52,000 cubic metres of fuel oil. Official newspaper Granma reported the fire was likely due to “a fault in the lightning-rod system, which could not withstand the energy from the electrical discharge”.
The disaster comes at a time when the island – with an outdated energy network and persistent fuel shortages – has faced mounting difficulties in meeting increased energy demands amid severe summer heat. Since May, authorities have imposed blackouts of up to 12 hours a day in some regions, sparking at least 20 protests around the nation of 11 million.
Extracted in full form: Cuba seeks help to contain deadly fuel depot fire (theaustralian.com.au)