At least 17 people are missing and 77 others are injured after a fire triggered explosions at a fuel depot in northwestern Cuba, officials said Saturday.
The blaze began overnight after lightning struck a crude oil storage tank on the outskirts of the city of Matanzas, the official Cuban News Agency reported.
By Saturday morning, the flames had spread to a second storage tank and were threatening other nearby tanks.
The Presidency of the Republic said the 17 missing people were “firefighters who were in the nearest area trying to prevent the spread.”
Health Minister Jose Angel Portal Miranda said on Twitter that three people were in critical condition. Seven patients were transferred to hospitals in the capital, Havana, around 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the storage facility.
Residents were evacuated from nearby neighborhoods as plumes of black smoke filled the sky.
President Miguel Diaz-Canel visited the scene on Saturday morning and posted on Twitter that emergency workers were “trying to avert the spread of the flames and any spill of fuel” into the Matanzas bay.
Island hit by fuel shortages, blackouts
The blaze comes as Cuba grapples with fuel shortages and daily power blackouts amid severe summer heat. Any loss of fuel at the facility, which stores oil used for electricity production, will likely make the situation worse.
Jorge Pinon, director of the Latin America and Caribbean Energy and Environment Program at the University of Texas in Austin, said the area had eight big tanks each with a capacity of 300,000 barrels.
“The area is a transshipment point for fuel to various thermoelectric plants, not just the one nearby, so this could be very bad news for the power grid,” he was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying.
Earlier this year, Cuban authorities began imposing energy blackouts lasting several hours in some regions, leading to protests in parts of the country.
nm/fb (Reuters, AFP, AP)
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