February 24, 2024

HAVANA (AP) — Cuban firefighters were joined by special teams sent from Mexico and Venezuela on Sunday as they battled for a second day to control a fire that broke out at a large oil tank farm in the western province of Matanzas.

The fire started Friday night when lightning struck a storage tank during a storm, and the fire spread to a second tank early Saturday, causing a series of explosions, officials said.

Authorities said Sunday that a body found at the scene was identified as firefighter Juan Carlos Santana, 60. Officials previously said a team of 17 firefighters had gone missing while trying to put out the flames, but it was not known if he was one of them.

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

Provincial governor Mario Sabines said Sunday that 4,946 people were evacuated, mostly from the Dubrocq district, which is next to the Supertanker Matanzas base in Matanzas city. The facility’s eight massive storage tanks contain oil used to generate electricity.

Thick black smoke billowed from the tank farm and spread west more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) to Havana. The Ministry of Science and Technology said on Sunday that the plume contained sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and other toxic substances.

The disaster comes as Cuba struggles with a severe economic and energy crisis, with frequent blackouts during a dreary summer. It is unknown how much fuel was lost in the flames.

The Cuban government had appealed for help on Saturday from oil nations, and specialist firefighting teams began arriving with their equipment from Mexico and Venezuela late Saturday.

“The support (is) in preventing hazards and also helping to extinguish the fire through water and foam-based cooling,” said Mexican Brig. General Juan Bravo said upon his arrival. “We hope that more support, such as chemical material, will be available soon.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossío said Saturday night that the U.S. government was offering technical assistance. On his Twitter account, he said that “the proposal is in the hands of experts for proper coordination.”

A few minutes later, President Miguel Díaz-Canel thanked Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile for their offers of aid.


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

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