A fire that broke out Friday at a fuel storage facility in Cuba remained out of control on Monday: authorities said it had destroyed a third tank and threatened a fourth.
Alexander Avalos Jorge, an officer with Cuba’s fire brigade, told reporters that “the four tanks” with a capacity of 50 million liters each, which were on a storage base “were exposed” and there was a “chain reaction”.
The disaster began on Friday night when lightning struck one of eight tanks at the facility, in Matanzas, about a hundred kilometers east of Havana, containing 26,000 cubic meters of crude oil, or about 50% of its maximum capacity.
Ridden by flames, the cylindrical structure exploded in the early hours of Saturday morning, spreading the fire to a second tank, which contained 52,000 cubic meters of fuel oil.
Despite firefighters using cranes and helicopters to repeatedly drop water, the second tank was blown apart after an explosion at midnight on Sunday, prompting authorities to order the evacuation of people battling the blaze.
“What we feared happened” with the fire destroying a third crude oil tank, Matanzas Governor Mario Sabines said on Monday in a video uploaded to the presidency’s Twitter account, before the flames spread to a fourth tank.
The situation is “very complicated” and the extent of the fire “quite large”, Mr Sabines added.
The governor also said that “teams” of Cuban, Mexican and Venezuelan firefighters are “taking up positions” to begin dropping extinguishing foam, but that “may take some time.”
According to the authorities’ latest tally, one firefighter has died and the number of missing from 16 has dropped to 14, while 22 people remain hospitalized, five of them in critical condition.
Relatives of the missing met with President Miguel Diaz-Canel. They are offered help from doctors and psychologists.
“My son did his duty, he went” to put out the fire, the mother of a 19-year-old firefighter who was in the fuel storage area when the first tank exploded told AFP with tears in her eyes.
On Sunday, four planes from Mexico and Venezuela arrived in Varadero, a seaside resort 40 kilometers northeast of Matanzas, carrying experts in fighting oil rig fires and tons of extinguishing foam.
The tragedy unfolds three months after the explosion at the iconic Saratoga Hotel in Havana due to a gas leak, which killed 46 people, including a Spanish tourist, and injured more than fifty others.