HAVANA (AP) — Cuban firefighters were joined on Sunday by special teams sent by Mexico and Venezuela as they battled for a second day to control a blaze at a large oil tank farm in the Western Province from Matanzas.
The blaze began Friday night when lightning struck a storage tank during a thunderstorm, and the fire spread to a second tank early Saturday, triggering a series of explosions, officials said.
“Today’s mission is to keep the third reservoir cold,” in hopes of stopping the flames from spreading to more of the site, provincial governor Mario Sabines said.
Most of the fuel in the tank where the fire initially started would have been consumed, officials said.
Authorities said a body found at the site on Saturday was identified as firefighter Juan Carlos Santana, 60.
Conditions were still too dangerous to organize a search for the missing firefighters, officials said.
A total of 122 people were treated for injuries, including five that authorities said were in critical condition.
The governor said 4,946 people had been evacuated, mostly from the Dubrocq neighborhood, which is next to the Matanzas supertanker base in the city of Matanzas. The facility’s eight huge storage tanks contain petroleum used to fuel power generation.
Thick black smoke rose from the tank farm and traveled west more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) to Havana. The Ministry of Science and Technology said on Sunday that the cloud contained sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and other toxic substances.
The Cuban government had appealed for help Saturday from oil-producing countries, and specialized firefighting teams began arriving Saturday evening with their equipment from Mexico and Venezuela. They brought helicopters and specialized chemicals to fight the oil fires.
“The support (is) in risk prevention and also helps to extinguish the fire by means of water and foam-based cooling,” said the Mexican brigadier. said General Juan Bravo upon his arrival. “We hope more support will arrive soon, such as chemical material.”
President Miguel Díaz-Canel met with team leaders from Mexico and Venezuela to coordinate fire control efforts. He later told Cuban media that he appreciated the help, as Cuba has neither the experience nor the resources to deal with fires of such magnitude.
Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossío said on Saturday evening that the US government had offered technical assistance. On his Twitter account, he said that “the proposal is in the hands of specialists for the necessary coordination”.
A few minutes later, the president thanked Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile for their offers of help.
Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP