Firefighter found dead as massive Cuban oil tank fire continues

Flames and smoke rise from the base of the Matanzas supertanker.

Ramon Espinosa/AP

Flames and smoke rise from the base of the Matanzas supertanker.

Cuban firefighters were joined on Sunday by special teams sent by Mexico and Venezuela as they battled for a second day to control a blaze at a large oil reservoir in the western province of Matanzas.

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

Authorities said on Sunday that a body found at the site had been identified as firefighter Juan Carlos Santana, 60.

Officials previously said a group of 17 firefighters went missing as they tried to smother the flames, but it was unclear if he was one of them.

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A total of 122 people were treated for injuries, including five in critical condition, officials said.

Provincial Governor Mario Sabines said on Sunday that 4,946 people had been evacuated, mostly from the Dubrocq neighborhood, which is next to the Matanzas supertanker base in the city of Matanzas. The facility’s eight huge storage tanks contain petroleum used to fuel power generation.

Members of the Cuban Red Cross at the scene in Matazanas, Cuba.

Ramon Espinosa/AP

Members of the Cuban Red Cross at the scene in Matazanas, Cuba.

Thick black smoke rose from the tank farm and traveled west over 100 km to Havana. The Ministry of Science and Technology said on Sunday that the cloud contained sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and other toxic substances.

The disaster comes as Cuba grapples with a severe economic and energy crisis, with frequent power cuts during a scorching summer. It was unclear how much fuel was lost in the flames.

The Cuban government had appealed for help from oil-producing countries on Saturday, and specialized firefighting teams began arriving Saturday evening with their equipment from Mexico and Venezuela.

People watch as a huge plume of smoke rises from the base of the Matanzas supertanker.

Ramon Espinosa/AP

People watch as a huge plume of smoke rises from the base of the Matanzas supertanker.

“The support (is) in preventing risks and also helping to extinguish the fire by means of water and foam-based cooling,” Mexican Brigadier General Juan Bravo said on his arrival. “We hope more support will arrive soon, such as chemical material.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossío said on Saturday evening that the US government had offered technical assistance. On his Twitter account, he said that “the proposal is in the hands of specialists for the necessary coordination”.

Minutes later, President Miguel Díaz-Canel thanked Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile for their offers of help.

Cuba Oil Union workers watch a huge plume of smoke rise from the Matanzas supertanker base.

Ramon Espinosa/AP

Cuba Oil Union workers watch a huge plume of smoke rise from the Matanzas supertanker base.

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