June 3, 2023

A massive fire sparked by lightning feeding two oil storage tanks in the Cuban city of Matanzas is raging out of control and has injured at least 121 people, according to the country’s health ministry.

Of the injured, 36 remained in hospital on Saturday night, of which five are in critical condition and three are in serious condition, the Ministry of Public Health announced. At least 17 people are missing, according to Cuban state television.

The lightning was reported Friday night. Officials said it hit one tank and sparked a fire that spread to a second.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel’s office said about 1,300 people living near the fire at the Matanzas supertanker base had been evacuated, while another 600 workers had been told to leave.

Five nearby neighborhoods in Matanzas, which is about 100 miles east of Havana, are being actively protected from the effects of the fire, it said.

Additional ambulances have responded to the scene to treat any injuries, the office said.

People watch a huge rising plume of smoke caused by a fire at the Matanzas Supertanker Base, in Matzanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022.
People watch a huge plume of smoke rise from a fire at the Matanzas supertanker base, in Matazanas, Cuba, on Saturday.Ramon Espinosa / AP

Cuba’s Ministry of Energy and Mines said Saturday morning that lightning was the culprit, and the government later released a satellite map showing a bright red storm cloud over the province, also called Matanzas.

Black smoke billowed over the province on Saturday, and forecasters said it was possible the smoke could reach as far as Key West, Florida.

The U.S. Embassy in Cuba said federal law allows for a U.S. response, including disaster relief. He said US officials have been in contact with Cuban authorities.

On TwitterDíaz-Canel thanked the countries that have provided assistance.

“We express our deep gratitude to the governments of Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile, which immediately offered material assistance in solidarity with this complex situation,” he said.

“We also appreciate the offer of technical advice from the US,” the president added.

The two tanks on fire were part of a storage facility with six other tanks, all used as fuel to generate electricity.

Orlando Matos and The Associated Press contributed.

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