Cuba gets help from Mexico, Venezuela to fight oil fire

HAVANA, Aug 7 (Reuters) – Cuba appeared to have made progress on Sunday in containing a fire at its main oil storage facility that killed one firefighter, prompting help from Mexico and Venezuela.

A lightning strike Friday ignited one of eight storage tanks at the Matanzas supertanker port, 60 miles east of Havana. Firefighters and others were shocked when the second tank caught fire on Saturday. Sixteen people were missing.

Suseli Morfa González, head of the Communist Party in Matanzas, told local reporters that “at this time there are no flames, just white smoke” coming from the first tank that was struck by lightning.

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She said the second tank was still burning, sending up a large column of black smoke, while the third, which authorities feared would explode Saturday night, “is being cooled with water at intervals to maintain a temperature sufficient to prevent combustion.”

A secondary fire that was leaking oil from the area was also extinguished. None of the oil has contaminated Matanjas Bay, officials said.

A second explosion on Saturday injured more than 100 people, including several first responders, and left 24 hospitalized, five of them in critical condition.

“We are dealing with a fire of such intensity that it is very difficult to control in Cuba, which does not have all the necessary tools,” Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel told reporters.

On Sunday, 82 Mexican and 35 Venezuelan crews joined the effort as they battled fuel flammability, loading four planeloads of firefighting chemicals.

“The help is important, I would say it’s important and it’s going to be decisive,” Diaz-Canel said. Cuba used water and helicopters to put out the fire.

Jorge Piñon, director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Latin America and Caribbean Energy and Environment Program, said each tank at the facility can store 300,000 barrels and supply fuel to an electric plant.

Cuba is experiencing daily black market and fuel shortages. The situation is likely to worsen due to reduced fuel and storage capacity, which has fueled local protests in recent months.

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Reporting by Mark Frank; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Daniel Wallis

Our Standards: Principles of Thomson Reuters Trust.

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