June 6, 2023

Cuban soldiers, firefighters and teams from Mexico and Venezuela fought a fire Sunday at a large oil storage terminal in the Cuban port of Matanzas, pumping seawater to cool potentially explosive tanks.

The fire at the Matanzas supertanker base, sparked by lightning strikes on Friday night, injured 120 people, killed at least one and left more than a dozen firefighters missing, authorities said. At least five people are in critical condition.

Juan Carlos Santana, 60, one of the first responders to the fire at the facility, was killed, the Matanzas provincial government said.

Thousands of residents living near the storage terminal were evacuated. The terminal is located near one of Cuba’s largest power plants, about 50 miles east of the capital, Havana.

Rescue teams and members of the Cuban Air Force helicopter squadron have stepped up efforts to put out the fire and use seawater to cool tanks, the Matanzas government said on Sunday. Another team worked overnight to build a pump to pump water out of the sea through pipes to deliver it to areas affected by the heat of the fire.

“We still have a few days of hard work to do,” the Cuban government said on Twitter. “When we are able to put out the fire, we will be able to start looking for the missing.”

On Sunday, President Miguel Diaz-Canel met relatives of the missing at a nearby hotel.

More than 80 military personnel and technicians from Mexico’s state-run oil company Petróleos Mexicanos arrived in Matanzas late Saturday. Cuban authorities said the Mexican government also sent three helicopters. Caracas has dispatched 35 professional firefighters and 20 tons of foam and chemicals to fight the fire, Venezuelan Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami said.

The fire at the Matanzas supertanker base was sparked by lightning strikes.


yamil lage/AFP/Getty Images

The communist island is already grappling with an energy crisis, including outages caused by fuel shortages and poorly maintained aging power plants. Power outages in parts of the island for up to 12 hours have left residents with shortages of food, medicines and other essential goods, causing food to spoil.

The fire engulfed two of the facility’s eight large fuel tanks, which contain fuel used to power Cuban power stations. A ship is expected to dock to remove fuel from remaining tanks.

The fires also put Cuba’s power grid at risk if damaged pipelines prevent fuel stored in Matanzas from reaching power stations across the country.

“The problem we all face is that when thermal power plants consume existing fuel and need additional fuel, a week or two later What will happen.”

Mr Pinion said a Russian tanker carrying crude oil was expected to dock in Matanzas this week. Matanzas is the only port that can handle such a large tanker. He added that if the terminal were not operational, it would force Cuba to divert fuel from large tankers to smaller tankers at sea, a solution that is both expensive and dangerous.

This is the second major disaster to hit Cuba in recent months. In early May, a gas explosion at the Saratoga Hotel in Havana killed 46 people and injured dozens more, just days before the well-known state-run hotel reopened after a renovation.

A year after mass demonstrations rocked the country, the energy crisis and deep economic contraction have fueled social unrest, forcing thousands of Cubans to emigrate to the U.S.

write to José de Córdoba at jose.decordoba@wsj.com and Santiago Pérez at santiago.perez@wsj.com

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