In the early hours of Friday, lightning struck an oil deposit in the city of Matanzas in Cuba, about 105 kilometers from Havana. This gave rise to an explosion that generated a large fire, which until now is uncontrollable. On Saturday morning, a second explosion was reported and the injured exceeded one hundred.
The Matanzas Supertanker Base, an industrial complex in western Cuba, was seriously affected when lightning struck one of the eight oil tanks, causing a strong explosion. Another of the deposits was reached by the flames, making the situation more complex.
According to the Cuban authorities there are more than a hundred wounded. There are also known to be 17 missing firefighters.
The columns of smoke generated by the fires are visible from Havana, almost two hours from Matanzas.
The president of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, and his prime minister, Manuel Marrero, visited the place, classifying it as an event of “major and complex.” They assured that their government is working to prevent the damage from being greater.
It is feared that the fire could spread to other deposits. Firefighters have not been able to reach the tanks where the detonations occurred and inhabitants of the sector assure that the flames are very close to the other containers.
“Visibly they are very close (the flames) to the tanks and the specialists warn of the real danger that this happens,” reported Pedro Rizo Martínez, a Cuban journalist.
The governor of Matanzas said that more than a thousand people were evacuated and that they are working to move more individuals, mainly those who live in vulnerable places. Military helicopters have dropped seawater and sand on the tanks to prevent the spread of the conflagration, they also seek to cool the rest of the tanks and prevent further explosions.
The situation could worsen if control of the affected deposits is not achieved
Each deposit has the capacity to hold 50,000 cubic meters of crude oil, about 15 Olympic swimming pools, although the amount they had at the time of the explosions is unknown.
The deposits are located almost three kilometers from the Antonio Guiteras thermoelectric plant, the main one in the country.
According to Rigel Rodríguez, director of the Territorial Division of Marketing of Fuels Matanzas, the base has a lightning rod system, “but the discharge was of such magnitude that it could not protect it.”
Electricity generation continues normally. The Electric Union of Cuba assured that the service “keeps operating in a stable manner” in the face of rumors of a cut.
Jorge Piñón, director of the Energy and Environment Program for Latin America and the Caribbean at the University of Texas at Austin, said that “the area is a transshipment point for fuel to several thermoelectric plants, not just the one that is nearby, so this could be very bad news for the power grid.”
For its part, the Forecast Center of the Cuban Institute of Meteorology warned that weather conditions are favorable for the spread of smoke to continue to the west of the island.
People have been recommended to wear masks, take care of children and pets, in addition to avoiding direct exposure to rain because it can be accompanied by high levels of pollutants.
The Díaz-Canel Executive requested international help and advice with experience in oil issues. The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, announced help through the Armed Forces and Petróleos Mexicanos to control the situation.
The president of Cuba thanked countries such as Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Chile, Argentina and Mexico for their help, “which have promptly offered solidary material aid in the face of this complex situation.”
🇲🇽 By presidential order, specialized personnel from Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) will support #Cuba to extinguish the fire caused by lightning in a Matanzas fuel depot on Friday pic.twitter.com/BQHzHrnNfV
– Rolando Segura (@rolandoteleSUR) August 6, 2022
Similarly, the Cuban government had a rapprochement with the US administration. Technical advisory aid has been coordinated by that nation, according to Carlos Fernández de Cossío, vice chancellor of Cuba.
“In the meantime, we want to make it clear that US law authorizes US entities and organizations to provide disaster relief and response in Cuba,” the US embassy in Havana reported.
Firefighters continue to work to contain the flames and foreign aid is expected to arrive in the next few hours.
With Reuters, EFE and local media
Source: France 24