Cuba calls for help, confronted with the gigantic fire of an oil depot

Cuba calls for help, confronted with the gigantic fire of an oil depot

Cuba on Saturday asked for the help of “friendly countries” to deal with the gigantic fire at an oil depot struck by lightning, in which 77 people were injured, three of whom are in critical condition, and 17 firefighters are missing.

Some 800 people were evacuated from the disaster area located in the suburb of Mantanzas, a city of 140,000 inhabitants 100 kilometers east of Havana, from where the huge plume of black smoke obscuring the sky was visible.

“Cuba has requested the help and advice of friendly countries with experience in the oil sector,” the presidency said in a statement.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said that Cuba’s “foreign policy is activated to receive help from friendly countries”.

The US Embassy in Havana claimed to be “in contact” with Cuban officials and clarified that “US law authorizes American entities and organizations to provide relief and disaster response in Cuba”. The United States is imposing a sanctions regime on the single party in power on the communist island.

On Twitter, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel estimated that controlling the fire “could take time”.

Three injured are in critical condition, three in very serious condition and 12 people are seriously ill, according to the official Granma newspaper. The 17 missing are “firefighters who were in the area closest to the fire” when an explosion took place.

Helicopters were at work fighting the blaze on Saturday, with water spears approached using cranes.

– “The sky was yellow” –

The fire broke out late Friday night when lightning struck one of the tanks at the oil depot. In the early morning, the fire then spread to a second tank.

According to Granma, “there was a failure of the lightning rod system that could not withstand the power of the electric shock”.

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 moment, “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.

According to him, Cuba had never been confronted with a fire of “the magnitude of today’s”.

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 has been facing supply difficulties since May 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.

The obsolescence of the island’s eight thermoelectric power plants, maintenance work and lack of fuel hamper electricity production.

Cuba currently has an average electricity distribution capacity of 2,500 megawatts, which is insufficient for household demand at peak times, which reaches 2,900 megawatts, according to the authorities.

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