Disasters & Accidents

Cuban firefighters make some headway against massive blaze

Matanzas, Cuba, Aug 9 (EFE).- The crews battling the fire at an oil storage facility in this Cuban port city reported some progress Tuesday while cautioning that the situation remains “complex and difficult.”

“It’s still an enormous fire, but we observe a different situation than yesterday,” Cuba’s deputy fire chief, Alexander Avalos, told a press conference in Matanzas, a city of some 140,000 residents west of Havana.

The firefighters had to contend Monday with several large explosions at the Matanzas Supertanker Base, which has eight tanks with total capacity to store nearly 420,000 cubic meters of oil.

The largest industrial accident in Cuban history began last Friday night when lightning struck a tank holding around 25,000 cu m of fuel oil and the contents burst into flames.

By the following morning, the blaze had spread to a second tank, and a third tank collapsed Monday.

The focus on Tuesday is “penetrating into the zone and cooling” the tanks, Avalos said, adding that a thorough damage assessment will have to wait until the fire is under control.

“When we have the opportunity, we will be able to recover the victims,” the deputy chief said, referring to 14 firefighters who are missing and presumed dead.

At least four of the eight fuel tanks have suffered damage, according to official reports.

One person, a 60-year-old firefighter, is confirmed dead. Of the 125 people injured, 19 remained hospitalized and five of those patients are listed in critical condition, the health ministry said.

Most of the oil stored in Matanzas is used to generate electricity and though Cubans have suffered all summer with power outages, the state utility says that the fire has had no additional effect on generating capacity. EFE lbp/dr

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