Fire at Cuban Oil Facility Leaves Dozens Injured, Hundreds Evacuated

HAVANA — Lightning struck a crude oil storage facility on the northern coast of Cuba, igniting a hearth that on Saturday had left dozens of individuals injured, 17 firefighters lacking and prompted the evacuation of some 600 folks, based on the authorities.

Photographs of the hearth on the Matanzas Supertanker Base, in Matanzas Province, 60 miles east of Havana, the capital, have been shared by the Cuban Power Ministry on social media and present monumental flames rising from the ability, with plumes of smoke blackening the sky.

Navy helicopters have been seen making an attempt to douse the inferno as dozens of firefighters rushed to the scene. Along with the 600 evacuees, some 1,300 folks fled the realm, based on the workplace of Cuba’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel.

The hearth started at one oil tank throughout a thunderstorm on Friday night, based on state information media, and unfold to a second tank early on Saturday morning. That tank was estimated to carry some 52,000 cubic meters of gasoline oil, or over 13 million gallons.

As of Saturday afternoon, there have been no reported deaths however 77 folks had been hospitalized, based on Matanzas authorities officers. The 17 firefighters reportedly went lacking Saturday morning simply because the second tank exploded round 5 a.m.

Amongst these injured was the Cuban power minister, Liván Arronte Cruz, the president’s workplace mentioned on Twitter.

The bottom, which shops oil for power manufacturing, is close to certainly one of Cuba’s main energy vegetation. Already, the Caribbean island struggles with widespread energy blackouts on account of continual gasoline shortages and an ailing infrastructure in dire want of upkeep.

Whereas the lights are largely saved on within the capital, within the Cuban provinces the place 9 million of the nation’s 11 million folks reside, hourslong energy cuts have turn out to be a grueling a part of each day life in current months. And diesel shortages have motorists ready in line for days.

“It’s a structural problem with Cuba’s electric power system, which has been operating for over 40 years with no scheduled capital maintenance,” mentioned Jorge Piñon, an power skilled on the College of Texas at Austin. “That puts at risk a total collapse of the system with no short term solution.”

Cuba’s largest protests in a long time have been prompted final yr partly by energy outages, in addition to an absence of meals and drugs within the nation, whose economic system has been laborious hit by each the pandemic and American sanctions. In Havana, the place smoke from the Matanzas hearth may very well be seen on the horizon, residents fearful that the blaze may make an already tough scenario even worse.

“It looks really terrible because the country is going through a fuel crisis, an electricity crisis,” mentioned Amanda Hernández, 20, a college scholar. “The explosion is going to make the blackouts even worse.”

Like many residents, Ms. Hernández has needed to get used to common energy outages in current months, typically for hours at a time. With Dengue fever widespread within the capital, she worries that with out electrical energy she gained’t have the ability to preserve the disease-spreading mosquitoes at bay.

“We have ‘solidarity’ blackouts as they put it,” Ms. Hernández mentioned. “I’m afraid because I have a baby that needs air and ventilation.”

President Díaz-Canel visited the affected space on Saturday together with the nation’s prime minister, Manuel Marrero Cruz, touring hospitals and assembly with the wounded.

“The dawn will be long and filled with anguish, as it was last night,” Mr. Díaz-Canel mentioned on Twitter. “There is no precedent for a fire of this magnitude at the Supertanker Base.”

Previously, Cuba has shunned improvement assist as a matter of nationwide delight. However because the hearth, there have been calls from state media and authorities officers for worldwide help.

“I deeply appreciate the messages of solidarity and offerings at this difficult time,” mentioned Overseas Minister Bruno Rodríguez on Twitter. “Our foreign policy is activated to receive the help of friendly countries.”

Among the many nations lining as much as assist was america, with its embassy in Havana tweeting: “We want to make clear that U.S. law authorizes U.S. entities and organizations to provide disaster relief and response in Cuba.”