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Miami Herald
Miami Herald
Nora Gámez Torres

Cuba was already facing an electricity crisis. These explosions could make that much worse

A fire at an oil storage facility in Matanzas adds to a string of bad news hitting Cuba this summer, already facing a major energy crisis that has fueled anti-government protests and a migrant exodus to the United States.

At least 77 people are injured and hundreds of residents are displaced after multiple explosions rocked the port of Matanzas in Cuba on Saturday. Seventeen firefighters are reported missing.

The fire started around 7 p.m. Friday, when lightning struck a crude oil storage tank in the unloading area in the port.

The tank was half capacity, with 25,000 cubic meters of Cuba crude oil. Firefighters working to contain the situation couldn’t prevent the flames from spreading to a second tank containing 52,000 cubic meters of fuel oil.

The Ministry of Transportation suspended all activities at the port of Matanzas, and all ships were rerouted to the port of Havana to unload.

The Communist Party said on Twitter that nearby power station Antonio Guiteras was working unaffected by the fire, but had fuel supply for only two days.

The wasted oil, a precious commodity for the cash-strapped island, and the disruption of operations at the port could worsen the already volatile situation, as the island is already struggling with electricity blackouts.

On Friday, electricity demand was 995 MW more than the generating capacity of Cuba’s electrical grid, causing blackouts all day, the state’s Cuba Electrical Union said.

The electrical cuts are ongoing because the grid is currently operating at about a third of its capacity. The island’s power stations are old and several units are out of commission or need urgent maintenance.

Another fire at a power station in the eastern province of Holguín in July killed any hopes of avoiding blackouts during the summer.

Domestic oil production covers only part of the island’s demand for electricity, so the government has been relying on oil sent by Venezuela and Russia to cover the rest.

Tens of thousands of barrels of oil are imported daily — and many come into the port of Matanzas.

On July 18, a Russian ship unloaded 700,000 barrels of fuel oil at the port’s facility.

The daily blackouts have caused several protests all over the island. Residents of cities and towns have been taking to the streets during the evening blackouts to complain about the electricity cuts. But Cuban officials have said the blackouts will continue.


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