Cuba: at least one dead in massive oil depot fire
Cuba has received offers of assistance from many countries after its appeal for help to cope with the gigantic fire at an oil depot struck by lightning that generated explosions in which at least one person was killed, 121 injured and 17 still missing.
Some 1,900 people were evacuated from the disaster area, located in the suburb of Mantanzas, a city of 140,00 inhabitants 100 kilometers east of Havana, from where the huge plume of black smoke obscuring the sky was visible.
“A body has been found at the accident site,” Luis Armando Wong, Matanzas Health Director, told a news conference.
Five injured are in a critical condition, three in a very serious condition and 28 seriously affected, according to a latest assessment communicated on the Twitter account of the presidency.
Among the injured is the Minister of Energy, Livan Arronte.
The 17 missing people are firefighters “who were in the area closest to the fire” when an explosion took place.
The fire broke out on Friday evening when lightning struck one of the tanks of the oil depot. In the early morning, the fire then spread to a second tank.
Faced with the difficult control of the fire, which “could take time”, according to Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, Cuba “asked for help and advice from friendly countries with experience in the oil sector”.
The answers were not long in coming and the Cuban president expressed on Twitter his “deep gratitude to the governments of Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile, who quickly offered material assistance in solidarity with this complex situation”.
“We are also grateful for the offer of technical assistance from the United States,” he added. Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernandez de Cossio said that the American proposal “is already in the hands of specialists for adequate coordination”.
The US Embassy in Havana had earlier claimed to be “in contact” with Cuban officials, stating that, despite the ongoing sanctions regime against the single ruling party, “US law authorizes American entities and organizations to provide relief and disaster response in Cuba”.
– “The sky was yellow” –
Helicopters were at work fighting the blaze on Saturday, with water spears approached using cranes.
Ginelva Hernandez, 33, said she, her husband and three children were asleep when they were awakened by a violent explosion. “We threw ourselves out of bed. When we went out into the street, the sky was yellow,” she told AFP. At that time, “people’s fear was uncontrollable”.
Laura Martinez, a resident close to the disaster area, told AFP that she “felt the explosion, like a shock wave”.
Hearing a first explosion, Yuney Hernandez, 32, and her children fled their house located two kilometers from the depot. They returned a few hours later, then they heard more explosions in the early hours of the morning and noises “as if pieces of the tank were falling”.
According to Asbel Leal, director of trade and supply at the Cuban Petroleum Union (Cupet), the first tank “contained about 26,000 cubic meters of domestic crude, or about 50% of its maximum capacity” at the time of the disaster. The second tank contained 52,000 cubic meters of fuel oil.
Cuba has never faced a fire of “the magnitude of today’s,” he said.
According to the official Granma daily, “there was a failure of the lightning rod system that could not withstand the power of the electric shock”.
The depot supplies the Antonio Guiteras power plant, the largest in Cuba, but pumping to the plant has not stopped, Granma said
This fire comes as the island is facing the obsolescence of the eight thermoelectric power plants to meet the increased demand for electricity due to the summer heat.
The authorities are to carry out rotating blackouts of up to 12 hours a day in some parts of the country, triggering the anger of overworked residents who have organized about two dozen protests.
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