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Mexico, Venezuela help Cuba contain oil fire

by ANDREA RODRIGUEZ The Associated Press | August 8, 2022 at 4:57 a.m.
Youth gather on a dock while flames and smoke continue to rise from the Matanzas Supertanker Base, as firefighters and specialists work to quell the blaze which began during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, causing a fire that led to four explosions which injured dozens. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

HAVANA -- Cuban firefighters were joined by special teams sent by Mexico and Venezuela on Sunday as they battled for a second day to control a fire blazing at a big oil tank farm in the western province of Matanzas.

The blaze began Friday night when lightning struck a storage tank during a thunder storm, and the fire spread to a second tank early Saturday, triggering a series of explosions, officials have said.

"The mission of the day is to keep the third tank cold," in hopes of preventing the flames from spreading into more of the site, provincial Gov. Mario Sabines said.

Most of the fuel held in the tank where the fire initially started was believed to have been consumed, officials said.

Authorities said a body found at the site Saturday had been identified as firefighter Juan Carlos Santana, 60. Officials previously said a group of 17 firefighters had gone missing while trying to quell flames, but there was no word if he was one of those.

Conditions were still too dangerous to mount a search for the missing firefighters, officials said.

A total of 122 people were treated for injuries, including five that officials 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 Matanzas city. The facility's eight huge storage tanks hold oil used to fuel electricity generation.


Dense black smoke billowed up from the tank farm and spread westward more than 62 miles to Havana. The Ministry of Science and Technology said Sunday that the cloud 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 power blackouts hitting during a torrid summer. It was unknown how much fuel had been lost to the flames.

Cuba's government had appealed for help Saturday from oil nations, and specialized firefighting teams began arriving with their equipment from Mexico and Venezuela late Saturday. They brought helicopters and specialized chemicals for fighting oil fire.

"The support [is] in the prevention of risks and also help to quell the fire by means of cooling based on water and foam," Mexican Brig. Gen. Juan Bravo said upon arrival. "We hope that more support will arrive soon, such as chemical material."

President Miguel Diaz-Canel met with the heads of the teams from Mexico and Venezuela to coordinate efforts for controlling the blaze. He later told Cuban media he appreciated the help, since Cuba doesn't have the experience or resources for dealing with fires of such magnitude.

Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernandez de Cossio said Saturday evening that the U.S. government had offered technical help. On his Twitter account, he said the "proposal is in the hands of specialists for the due coordination."

Minutes later, the president thanked Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile for their offers of help.

  photo  A helicopter dumps water over the Matanzas Supertanker Base, as firefighters try to quell a blaze which began during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, causing a fire that led to four explosions which injured more than 50 people. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
 
 
  photo  Sunbathers watch a huge plume of smoke rise from the Matanzas supertanker base, as firefighters work to douse a fire that started during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matanzas, Cuba, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, sparking a fire that sparked four explosions that injured more than 121 people, one person dead and 17 missing. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
 
 
  photo  An ambulance drives away from the Matanzas Supertanker Base, where firefighters work to quell a blaze which began during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. The fire at an oil storage facility raged uncontrolled Saturday, where four explosions and flames injured nearly 80 people and left over a dozen firefighters missing, Cuban authorities said. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
 
 
  photo  Members of the Cuban Red Cross prepare to be transported to the Matanzas Supertanker Base, where firefighters work to quell a blaze which began during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. The fire at an oil storage facility raged uncontrolled Saturday, where four explosions and flames injured nearly 80 people and left over a dozen firefighters missing, Cuban authorities said. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
 
 
  photo  Flames and smoke rise from the Matanzas Supertanker Base, as firefighters and specialists work to quell the blaze which began during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, causing a fire that led to four explosions which injured dozens. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
 
 
  photo  Members of the Cuban Red Cross prepare to be transported to the Matanzas Supertanker Base, where firefighters work to quell a blaze which began during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. The fire at an oil storage facility raged uncontrolled Saturday, where four explosions and flames injured nearly 80 people and left over a dozen firefighters missing, Cuban authorities said. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
 
 
  photo  Workers of the Cuba Oil Union, known by the Spanish acronym CUPET, watch a huge rising plume of smoke from the Matanzas Supertanker Base, as firefighters work to quell a blaze which began during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, causing a fire that led to four explosions which injured more than 50 people. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
 
 
  photo  Residents watch a plume of smoke continue to rise from the Matanzas Supertanker Base, as firefighters and specialists work to quell the blaze which began during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, causing a fire that led to four explosions which injured dozens. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
 
 
  photo  People watch a huge plume of smoke rise from the Matanzas supertanker base, as firefighters work to douse a fire that started during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matanzas, Cuba, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, sparking a fire that sparked four explosions that injured more than 121 people, one person dead and 17 missing. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
 
 

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