On Sunday, Cuba looked to be making headway in putting out a fire at its largest oil storage facility that had killed one fireman, with assistance from Mexico and Venezuela.
On Friday, a lightning strike torched one of eight storage tanks at the Matanzas super tanker port, which is 60 miles east of Havana. On Saturday, a second tank caught fire, surprising firefighters and others on the scene. Sixteen people were reported missing.
According to Susely Morfa Gonzalez, chairman of the Communist Party in Matanzas, “there are no flames at this time, only white smoke” emerging from the first tank struck by lightning.
She added a second tank was still burning and emitting a massive column of black smoke, while a third, which officials thought would explode on Saturday night, was “is being cooled with water at intervals, in order to maintain an adequate temperature that prevents combustion.”
A secondary fire started by oil spilling from the vicinity was also put out. According to officials, no oil had contaminated Matanzas Bay.
The second explosion on Saturday injured over 100 individuals, including several first responders, and 24 people remain hospitalized, with five in severe condition.
“We are facing a fire of such magnitude that it is very difficult to control in Cuba, where there are not all the means that are required,” Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel told reporters.
On Sunday, 82 Mexican and 35 Venezuelan firefighters with experience fighting gasoline fires joined the mission, bringing four planeloads of fire-fighting chemicals with them.
“The help is important, I would say that it is vital and it is going to be decisive,” Diaz-Canel added. Cuba had been fighting the fires with water and helicopters.
According to Jorge Pinon, director of the Latin America and Caribbean Energy and Environment Program at the University of Texas at Austin, each tank at the complex could store 300,000 barrels and delivered fuel to power plants.
Daily blackouts and gasoline shortages have plagued Cuba. The loss of fuel and storage capacity is likely to exacerbate the situation, which has already sparked minor local protests in recent months.