Disasters & Accidents

Fire at oil storage base under control, Cuba says

Matanzas, Cuba, Aug 10 (EFE).- The fire that has raged for the better part of five days at an oil storage facility in this northern port city is under control, Cuban authorities said Wednesday.

“We feel calmer. Always concerned, but calmer. The extinction (of the blaze) won’t be today, but little by little we will end it,” the island’s deputy fire chief, Alexander Avalos, told a press conference in Matanzas.

“We have extinguished isolated fires that do not threaten to spread and we continue with the cooling of the tanks,” he said.

The Matanzas Supertanker Base has eight tanks with total capacity to store nearly 420,000 cubic meters of oil. Four of the tanks have been affected by the blaze.

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.

Avalos expressed gratitude Wednesday to the Mexican and Venezuelan firefighters who traveled to Cuba to assist in the emergency.

He was joined in front of reporters by Luis Wong, head of public health in Matanzas province, who said that 20 of the 128 people injured in the fire remain hospitalized, including five patients listed in critical condition.

Noting that a 60-year-old firefighter is the only confirmed fatality, he said that the search for 14 firefighters who were reported missing last Saturday after an explosion will begin as soon as conditions allow.

At the height of the blaze, thick black smoke reached Havana, 104 km (62 mi) away, and the emergency also led to evacuation of residents from some areas of Matanzas, a city of around 140,000 people.

The Cuban government has yet to offer a damage estimate.

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 effect on generating capacity. EFE lbp/dr

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