Dozens of people were injured and 17 firefighters are missing after lightning struck fuel storage tanks at a tanker port in Cuba, causing explosions and wildfires.
The fire broke out during a storm on Friday night in the city of Matanzas and raged out of control on Saturday despite fire crews battling to extinguish it.
The official Cuban news agency reported that a lightning strike ignited an oil tank at the Matanzas supertanker base, and the fire later spread to a second fuel storage tank.
At least 67 people were injured in four explosions and 17 firefighters remain unaccounted for, according to Cuban state television. Civilians had already been removed from the area.
Health Minister Josã Angel Portal Miranda said in a post on Twitter that three of the injured are in critical condition and 15 are in “serious” condition.
Seven patients were transferred to hospitals in the capital, Havana.
President Miguel Diaz-Canel visited the scene 80 miles east of Havana around midnight Friday and returned in the morning as state television broadcast live coverage of the unfolding disaster.
Diaz-Canel tweeted before the second explosion that first responders were “trying to prevent the flames from spreading and any fuel spill” into Matanzas Bay.
A later tweet from his office said Cuba was seeking help from “friendly” nations with experience in the oil sector.
By Saturday morning the fire appeared completely out of control, threatening other fuel storage tanks as smoke reached Havana, more than 60 miles away.
“I was in the gym when I felt the first explosion. A column of smoke and terrible fire rose into the skies,” resident Adiel Gonzalez said, adding that the city has a “strong smell of sulfur.”
A paramedic at the scene, who asked not to be named, said by phone that cold water was being poured into nearby tanks.
The fire comes as Cuba suffers daily power outages and fuel shortages, problems likely to be exacerbated by the fire.
Jorge Piñon, director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Latin American and Caribbean Energy and Environment Program, said the region had eight large reservoirs with a capacity of 300,000 barrels each.
“The area is a fuel transshipment point to various thermal plants, not just the one nearby, so this could be very bad news for the power grid,” he said.