HAVANA (AP) – Cuban firefighters joined special teams sent by Mexico and Venezuela on Sunday as they battled for another day to contain a fire at a large oil tank farm in the western province of Matanzas.
A fire started when lightning struck a storage tank during a thunderstorm on Friday night and spread to another tank early Saturday morning, triggering a series of explosions, officials said.
“The goal today is to keep the third tank cool,” said provincial governor Mario Sabines, hoping to prevent the flames from spreading further.
Most of the fuel stored in the tank where the fire initially broke out was consumed, officials said.
Officials said the body found at the site Saturday has been identified as firefighter Juan Carlos Santana, 60. Officials previously said a group of 17 firefighters went missing while trying to put out the flames, but there was no word on whether he was one of them.
Conditions were still too dangerous to search for the missing firefighters, officials said.
A total of 122 people were treated for injuries, including five in critical condition, officials said.
The governor said 4,946 people had been evacuated, mostly from the Dubroque area, which is next to the Matanzas Supertanker base in the city of Matanzas. The facility’s eight large storage tanks hold the oil used to generate electricity.
Thick black smoke billowed from the tank farm and spread more than 100 kilometers (62 mi) west to Havana. The Ministry of Science and Technology said on Sunday that the cloud contains sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and other toxic substances.
The disaster came at a time when Cuba was struggling with dire economic conditions and energy Crisis, frequent power outages during hot summers. It was not known how much fuel was wasted to the flames
The Cuban government had appealed for help from oil nations on Saturday, and late on Saturday special firefighting teams began arriving from Mexico and Venezuela with their equipment. They brought in helicopters and special chemicals to fight the oil fire.
“The support (is) helping to contain the risk and extinguish the fire through water and foam-based cooling,” Mexican Brig. General Juan Bravo said when he arrived. “We hope that more support, such as chemical materials, will come soon.”
President Miguel Diaz-Canel met with heads of state in Mexico and Venezuela to coordinate firefighting efforts. He later told Cuban media that he appreciated the help, as Cuba does not have the experience or resources to deal with fires of such intensity.
Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cosio said Saturday evening that the US government had offered technical assistance. On his Twitter account, he said, “The proposal is in the hands of experts for proper coordination.”
Minutes later, the President thanked Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile for their offers of assistance.
Andrea Rodríguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP