HAVANA (AP) – A fire set off by a lightning strike at an oil storage facility raged uncontrolled in the Cuban city of Matanzas, where four explosions and flames injured 121 people and left 17 firefighters missing. Cuban authorities said a unidentified body had been found late on Saturday.
Firefighters and other specialists were still trying to quell the blaze at the Matanzas Supertanker Base, where the fire began during a thunderstorm Friday night, the Ministry of Energy and Mines tweeted. Authorities said about 800 people were evacuated from the Dubrocq neighbourhood closest to the fire,
The government said it had asked for help from international experts in “friendly countries” with experience in the oil sector.
Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossío said the United States (US) government had offered technical help to quell the blaze. On his Twitter account, he said the “proposal is in the hands of specialists for the due coordination”.
Minutes later, President Miguel Díaz-Canel thanked Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile for their offers of help. A support flight from Mexico arrived on Saturday night.
The official Cuban News Agency said lightning hit one tank, starting a fire, and the blaze later spread to a second tank.
As military helicopters flew overhead dropping water on the blaze, dense column of black smoke billowed from the facility and spread westward more than 100 kilometres toward Havana.
Head of fire operations in Matanzas Roberto de la Torre, said firefighters were spraying water on intact tanks trying to keep them cool in hopes of preventing the fire from spreading. Cuba’s Health Ministry reported that 121 people were injured with five of them in critical condition.
The Presidency of Cuba said the 17 people missing were “firefighters who were in the nearest area trying to prevent the spread”.