Third fuel tank collapses as fire rages at Cuba oil terminal

With help from Mexico and Venezuela, Cuba is battling a massive fire at a major oil terminal in Matanzas.

A third crude tank caught fire and collapsed at Cuba’s main oil terminal in Matanzas on Monday, the regional governor said, after an oil leak spread flames from a second tank that caught fire two days ago in the island’s worst oil industry disaster in decades.

Cuba had made progress fighting the flames over the weekend after receiving help from Mexico and Venezuela, but late Sunday the fire started spreading from a second tank, which collapsed, said Mario Sabines, the governor of Matanzas province, about 100 km (60 miles from Havana).

The fourth tank is threatened but not yet on fire. Firefighters sprayed water on the remaining tanks over the weekend to try to cool them and prevent the fire from spreading.

Matanzas is Cuba’s largest port for crude oil and fuel imports. Cuban heavy crude, as well as fuel oil and diesel stored in Matanzas, is mainly used to generate electricity on the island.

Sabines likened the situation to an “Olympic torch” passing from one tank to another, each turning into a “caldron” and now occupying three tanks and with flames and plumes of black smoke making the situation “complicated”.

“The threat we declared was fulfilled and the flames from the second tank compromised the third tank,” Sabines said.

Local officials warned residents to use face masks or stay indoors as smoke billowed in the region visible from Havana.

Officials have warned that the cloud contains sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and other toxic substances.

One firefighter has died and 16 people are missing, all after Saturday’s explosion in another storage tank. One of the facility’s eight tanks caught fire on Friday night after lightning struck one of them.

Cuban state television has been covering the unfolding disaster live since Saturday, and President Miguel Diaz-Canel has been in constant presence, underscoring the economic and political importance of the situation.

The US-sanctioned country has been plagued by blackouts, gas and other shortages that have fueled an already tense situation with scattered local protests following anti-government protests in July last year.

A tanker carrying Russian crude Matanzas, identified by the Refinitiv Eikon monitoring service, is unlikely to be able to leave next week even if the docks are not affected by the fire due to possible damage to tanks, pipelines and valves, analysts said.

On Monday afternoon, officials announced that the country’s most important power plant, located about a kilometer from the fire, had been shut down due to low water pressure in the area.

Residents have been asked to wear masks or stay indoors as the smoke contains toxic elements. The fourth tank is in danger of catching fire [Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters]

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