A wildfire caused by lightning strikes on an Cuban Oil Facility has burned out of control in Cubas Matanzas City, with four explosions and flames that have injured 121 people and left 17 firefighters missing. Cuban authorities said a body was found later Saturday, which was not identified. Firefighters and other specialists are still trying to put out a fire in Matanzas supertanker base, where it started in a lightning storm Friday evening, the Energy and Mining Ministry said on Twitter.
The government said it had asked international experts in “friendly countries” who had expertise in oil. Deputy foreign minister Carlos Fernandez de Cosio said the US government had offered technical assistance in suppressing the fire. On his Twitter account, he said the “proposal is with specialists to coordinate properly”.
Minutes later, President of the Cuban Oil Facility Miguel Diaz-Canel thanked Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina, and Chile for offering assistance. A supporting flight from Mexico arrived on Saturday evening.
The Cuban Official Press Agency said that a flash of lightning struck a tank, sparking the fire, which then spread to the second tank. As military helicopters flew overhead, dropping water on the blaze, thick columns of black smoke rose from the plant, spreading more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) west to Havana. Roberto de la Torre, head of the Matanzas Fire Department, said firefighters were sprinkling water over intact tanks in an effort to cool them, hoping to keep the flames from spreading.
Cubas health ministry said 121 people were injured, five in critical condition. The Presidency of the Republic said 17 people missing were “firefighters in a nearby neighborhood trying to stop the spread”. Later on Saturday, the Ministry of Health said in a statement that one body had been found, and officials were trying to determine its identity.
The crash comes as Cuba struggles with fuel shortages. There was no immediate word about how much oil was burned or in danger in the storage area, which has eight massive tanks holding the oil used to power plants.
“I was at the gym when I heard the first explosion. A column of smoke rose into the sky, accompanied by terrible flames,” resident Adel Gonzalez told The Associated Press on a telephone call. “There was a very bad smell of sulphur in the town.
She said that a few people have decided to also move out of the district of Versailles, a bit further away from the oil fields than Doubrocq. Many ambulances, police officers, and fire engines were seen in the streets of Matnazas, a town with around 140,000 residents on the Bay of Matnza.
Local weatherman Elier Pila showed satellite images of the area, where a thick black plume of smoke was moving westward from where the fire started, reaching eastward toward Havana. “This plume could reach as far as 150 kilometers,” Pila wrote on his Twitter account.