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Miami Herald
Miami Herald
Nora Gámez Torres

More than 100 injured and 17 firefighters missing as oil tank fire rages in Cuba

A blazing fire in a crude oil tank in the port of Matanzas in Cuba caused several explosions Saturday morning that have left at least 121 people injured, local authorities said.

Seventeen firefighters who were trying to prevent the flames from spreading were missing, the official Twitter account of Cuba’s presidential office said.

Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper Granma said there was “a high probability” that some of the missing people were dead. In an afternoon press conference, Cuban Prime Minister Manuel Marrero said rescue teams recovered the body of an unidentified person. Local state media reported it was of one of the missing firefighters.

Among those injured with minor burns were three journalists who arrived at the fire scene around 4 a.m. when an explosion occurred in a second oil tank containing 52,000 cubic meters of fuel oil.

The oil storage facility is located in an area of Matanzas Bay opposite the city center. According to state media, 800 residents of nearby areas have been evacuated so far. The Ministry of Transportation suspended all activities at the port of Matanzas, including fuel unloading, and ships were diverted to the ports of Havana or Cienfuegos.

Efforts to control the fire continued on Saturday evening, as the flames were “increasing,” Marrero said.

Cuban authorities said they had requested aid “from friendly countries with experience in the oil industry” to put out the fire. According to the Cuban state news outlet Cubadebate, the “friendly countries” could be Venezuela and Mexico.

On social media, Cuban and Cuban American users called the island government to ask for help from Florida.

In the afternoon, the Cuban government said it accepted “technical assistance” offered by the United States to help put out the fire, in what could be one of the few examples of cooperation between the two countries in recent years.

“We deeply appreciate the condolences and expressions of help from people and organizations in the U.S. regarding the #Matanzas incident, including from the U.S. government, which offered technical advice, a proposal already in the hands of specialists for proper coordination,” Carlos Fernández de Cossío, Cuba’s vice minister of foreign affairs, said on Twitter.

Previously, the U.S. embassy in Havana had sent condolences to the victims of the incident in a message posted on Twitter and clarified that U.S. law authorizes American entities and organizations “to provide disaster relief and response in Cuba.”

Reached by the Herald, the State Department did not provide details of what was offered to Cuba.


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