June 6, 2023

Havana (AP) — A special team from Mexico and Venezuela joined Cuban firefighters Sunday in their second day of fighting to control a blaze at a large oil tank farm in the western province of Matanzas.

The blaze started Friday night when lightning struck one storage tank during a thunderstorm and spread to a second tank early Saturday, sparking a series of explosions, officials said.

A body found at the scene has been identified as 60-year-old firefighter Juan Carlos Santana, authorities said on Sunday. Officials previously said 17 firefighters were missing while trying to put out the blaze, but no one knew if he was one of them.

A total of 122 people were treated for injuries, five of them in critical condition, officials said.

Governor Mario Sabines said Sunday that 4,946 people had been evacuated, mostly from the Dubroke community near the Matanzas supertanker base in the city of Matanzas. The facility’s eight huge storage tanks store the oil used to generate electricity.

Thick black smoke rose from the oil depot and traveled more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) west to Havana. The Ministry of Science and Technology said on Sunday that the cloud contained toxic substances such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide.

The disaster comes as Cuba is battling a severe economic and energy crisis, with frequent power outages during the hot summer months. Not sure how much fuel was burned.

The Cuban government turned to the petro-state for help on Saturday, and professional fire brigades began arriving from Mexico and Venezuela late Saturday with their equipment.

“Supports (is) risk prevention and also helps to fight fires through water- and foam-based cooling,” Mexican Brig. General Juan Bravo said when he arrived. “We hope more support will come soon, such as chemical materials.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernandez de Cosio said late Saturday that the U.S. government had provided technical assistance. On his Twitter account, he said “the proposal is in the hands of the experts for proper coordination.”

A few minutes later, President Miguel Diaz-Canel thanked Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile for their help.


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

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