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Fire at Cuban Oil Facility Leaves Dozens Injured, Hundreds Evacuated

HAVANA — Lightning struck a crude oil storage facility on the northern coast of Cuba, igniting a hearth that on Saturday had left dozens of individuals injured, 17 firefighters lacking and prompted the evacuation of some 800 individuals, in response to the authorities.

Photographs of the fireplace on the Matanzas Supertanker Base, in Matanzas Province, 60 miles east of Havana, the capital, had been shared by the Cuban Power Ministry on social media and present monumental flames rising from the ability, with plumes of smoke blackening the sky.

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Army helicopters had been seen attempting to douse the inferno as dozens of firefighters rushed to the scene.

The fireplace started at one oil tank throughout a thunderstorm on Friday night, in response to state information media, and unfold to a second tank early on Saturday morning. That tank was estimated to carry some 52,000 cubic meters of gasoline oil, or over 13 million gallons.

As of Saturday afternoon, there have been no reported deaths however 77 individuals had been hospitalized, in response to Matanzas authorities officers. The 17 firefighters reportedly went lacking Saturday morning simply because the second tank exploded round 5 a.m.

Amongst these injured was the Cuban vitality minister, Liván Arronte Cruz, the president’s workplace mentioned on Twitter.

The bottom, which shops oil for vitality manufacturing, is close to certainly one of Cuba’s major energy crops. Already, the Caribbean island struggles with widespread energy blackouts on account of power gasoline shortages and an ailing infrastructure in dire want of upkeep.

Whereas the lights are principally saved on within the capital, within the Cuban provinces the place 9 million of the nation’s 11 million individuals reside, hourslong energy cuts have grow to be a grueling a part of every day life in current months. And diesel shortages have motorists ready in line for days.

“It’s a structural downside with Cuba’s electrical energy system, which has been working for over 40 years with no scheduled capital upkeep,” mentioned Jorge Piñon, an vitality skilled on the College of Texas at Austin. “That places in danger a complete collapse of the system with no brief time period resolution.”

Cuba’s largest protests in a long time had been prompted final yr partly by energy outages, in addition to a scarcity of meals and medication within the nation, whose financial system has been laborious hit by each the pandemic and American sanctions. In Havana, the place smoke from the Matanzas hearth may very well be seen on the horizon, residents anxious that the blaze may make an already tough state of affairs even worse.

“It appears to be like actually horrible as a result of the nation goes by a gasoline disaster, an electrical energy disaster,” mentioned Amanda Hernández, 20, a college scholar. “The explosion goes to make the blackouts even worse.”

Like many residents, Ms. Hernández has needed to get used to common energy outages in current months, usually for hours at a time. With Dengue fever widespread within the capital, she worries that with out electrical energy she received’t be capable of preserve the disease-spreading mosquitoes at bay.

“We now have ‘solidarity’ blackouts as they put it,” Ms. Hernández mentioned. “I’m afraid as a result of I’ve a child that wants air and air flow.”

President Miguel Díaz-Canel of Cuba visited the affected space on Saturday together with the nation’s prime minister, Manuel Marrero Cruz, touring hospitals and assembly with the wounded.

“The daybreak shall be lengthy and stuffed with anguish, because it was final evening,” Mr. Díaz-Canel mentioned on Twitter. “There isn’t a precedent for a hearth of this magnitude on the Supertanker Base.”

Up to now, Cuba has shunned growth help as a matter of nationwide satisfaction. However for the reason that hearth, there have been calls from state media and authorities officers for worldwide help.

“I deeply respect the messages of solidarity and choices at this tough time,” mentioned Overseas Minister Bruno Rodríguez on Twitter. “Our overseas coverage is activated to obtain the assistance of pleasant nations.”

Among the many nations lining as much as assist was the US, with its embassy in Havana tweeting: “We wish to clarify that U.S. regulation authorizes U.S. entities and organizations to supply catastrophe reduction and response in Cuba.”

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