17 missing, dozens injured as fire rages on the Cuban oil tank farm

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HAVANA – A lightning strike at an oil depot broke out uncontrolled Saturday in the city of Matanzas, 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 quell the fire at the base of the Matanzas supertanker, where the fire broke out during a thunderstorm Friday night, the Ministry of Energy and Mines tweeted. The government then claimed to have asked for help from international experts from “friendly countries” with experience in the oil sector.

The official Cuban news agency said lightning struck one tank, causing a fire, and the fire then spread to a second tank. As military helicopters flew overhead causing water to fall on the flames, a thick column of black smoke rose from the structure and spread westward over 100 kilometers (62 miles) towards Havana.

According to the Facebook page of the provincial government of Matanzas, the number of injured has reached 77, while the missing persons are 17. The Presidency of the Republic said that the 17 were “the firefighters who were in the nearest area trying to prevent the spread “.

The crash comes as Cuba struggles with fuel shortages. There was no immediate word on how much oil was being burned or in danger at the storage facility, which has eight giant tanks that hold oil used to power the power generation plants.

“I was in the gym when I heard the first explosion. A column of smoke and a terrible fire has risen in the skies, “the Associated Press resident Adiel Gonzalez told the phone.” The city smells strongly of sulfur. “

Authorities said the Dubrocq neighborhood closest to the fire had been evacuated, while Gonzalez added that some people have decided to leave the Versailles neighborhood, which is a little further away from the tank farm.

Many ambulances, police and fire engines have been spotted on the streets of Matanzas, a city of about 140,000 inhabitants located on the bay of Matanzas.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel went to the fire area early Saturday, officials said.

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

“That plume can be nearly 150 kilometers long,” Pila wrote on his Twitter account.

Andrea Rodríguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP