Cuba asks for help to control a fire in an oil depot

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Cuba faces Sunday the gigantic fire of an oil depot struck by lightning. Faced with an unprecedented fire fight for the island, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel announced that he had “requested the help and advice of friendly countries with experience in the oil sector”. The United States offered assistance.

Offers of assistance are multiplying after the call for help launched by Cuba. The island faces Sunday August 7 the gigantic fire of an oil depot struck the day before by lightning. At least one person was killed, 121 others were injured and 17 are missing.

Some 1,900 people were evacuated from the disaster area, located on the outskirts of Matanzas, a city of 140,000 people 100 kilometers east of Havana, from where the huge plume of black smoke obscuring the sky was visible .

“A body was found at the crash site,” Matanzas director of health Luis Armando Wong told a news conference.

Five injured are in critical condition, three in very serious condition and 28 seriously injured, according to a latest report communicated on the presidency’s Twitter account. Among the injured is Energy Minister Livan Arronte.

The 17 missing people are firefighters “who were in the area closest to the fire” when an explosion took place.

The fire broke out on Friday evening when lightning struck one of the tanks at the oil depot. In the early morning, the fire then spread to a second tank.

Contacts with the United States

Faced with the difficult control of the fire which “could take time”, according to Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, Cuba “requested the help and advice of friendly countries with experience in the oil sector”.

Responses were quick and the Cuban president expressed on Twitter his “deep gratitude to the governments of Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile, who promptly offered material assistance out of solidarity in the face of this complex situation”.

“We are also grateful for the offer of technical assistance from the United States,” he added. Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernandez de Cossio said the US proposal “is already in the hands of specialists for proper coordination.”

The U.S. Embassy in Havana had earlier said it was “in touch” with Cuban officials, saying that despite the ongoing sanctions regime against the ruling single party, “U.S. law allows entities and U.S. organizations to provide relief and disaster response in Cuba.”

“People’s fear was out of control”

Helicopters were hard at work battling the blaze on Saturday, with water hoses brought in using cranes.

Ginelva Hernandez, 33, said she, her husband and three children were sleeping when they were awakened by a violent explosion. “We threw ourselves out of bed. When we went out into the street, the sky was yellow,” she told AFP. At that time, “people’s fear was out of control”.

Laura Martinez, a resident near the disaster area, told AFP that she “felt the explosion, like a shock wave”.

Hearing a first explosion, Yuney Hernandez, 32, and her children fled their home located two kilometers from the depot. They returned a few hours later and then heard more explosions in the early hours of the morning and sounds “like pieces of the tank falling”.

According to Asbel Leal, director of trade and supply at the Cuban Petroleum Union (Cupet), the first tank “contained approximately 26,000 cubic meters of domestic crude, or approximately 50% of its maximum capacity” at the time of the disaster. The second tank contained 52,000 cubic meters of fuel oil.

Cuba has never faced a fire of “the magnitude of today’s”, he said.

According to the official daily Granma, “there was a failure of the lightning rod system which could not withstand the power of the electric discharge”.

The deposit supplies the Antonio Guiteras power plant, the largest in Cuba, but pumping to the plant has not stopped, Granma said.

This fire comes as the island faces the obsolescence of the eight thermoelectric plants to meet the increased demand for electricity due to the summer heat.

The authorities must carry out rotating cuts of up to 12 hours a day in certain regions of the country, triggering the anger of exasperated residents who have organized around twenty demonstrations.

With AFP


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