October 5, 2022


A fire sparked by lightning at an oil warehouse raged out of control Saturday in the city of Matanzas, where four explosions and flames injured nearly 80 people, Cuban authorities said. Seventeen firefighters are missing.

Firefighters and other experts are still trying to put out the fire at the Matanzas supertanker base, where the fire started during a storm on Friday night, the Ministry of Energy and Mines said on Twitter. The government later said it had sought help from international experts in “friendly countries” with experience in the oil sector.

The official Cuban news agency reported that lightning struck one tank, causing a fire, and the fire later spread to a second tank. As military helicopters flew overhead dropping water on the blaze, a thick plume of black smoke poured from the facility and spread west over 100 kilometers (62 miles) toward Havana.

Oil fire in Cuba
Workers at Cuba Oil Union, known by its Spanish acronym CUPET, watch a huge plume of smoke rise from the Matanzas supertanker base as firefighters work to put out a fire that started during a storm the night before in Matazanas, Cuba. Saturday, August 6, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, sparking a fire that led to four explosions that injured more than 50 people.

Ramon Espinosa / AP


The provincial government of Matanzas Facebook page reported that the number of injured reached 77, while 17 people were missing. The Presidency of the Republic said the 17 were “firefighters who were in the nearest area trying to prevent the spread”.

The incident comes as Cuba faces fuel shortages. There was no immediate word on how much oil had burned or was at risk at the storage facility, which has eight giant tanks containing oil used to fuel power plants.

“I was in the gym when I felt the first explosion. A column of smoke and terrible fire shot up into the sky,” resident Adiel Gonzalez told The Associated Press by phone. “The city has a strong sulfur smell.”

Oil fire in Cuba
A helicopter carrying water flies over the Matanzas Supertanker Base as firefighters try to put out a fire that started during a storm the night before, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022.

Ramon Espinosa / AP


Authorities said the Dubrocq neighborhood closest to the fire was evacuated, while Gonzalez added that some people decided to leave the Versailles area, which is a little further from the tank farm.

Many ambulances, police and fire trucks were seen on the streets of Matanzas, a city of about 140,000 people located on Matnzas Bay.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel traveled to the area of ​​the fire early Saturday, officials said.

Local meteorologist Elier Pila showed satellite images of the area with a thick plume of black smoke moving west from the fire site and reaching east as far as Havana.

“This plume may be close to 150 kilometers long,” Pila wrote on his Twitter account.

Oil fire in Cuba
People watch a huge plume of smoke rise from the Matanzas Supertanker Base as firefighters try to put out a fire that started during a storm the night before, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022.

Ramon Espinosa / AP




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