17 firefighters missing, 100 injured in Cuba oil tank fire

17 firefighters missing, 100 injured in Cuba oil tank fire

A blaze at an oil storage facility in the Cuban city of Matanzas has raging uncontrollably, with 17 firefighters missing and at least 100 injured after four explosions, according to a fire set off by a lightning strike.

Cuban authorities said 121 people had been injured in the blaze and that an unidentified body had been found late Saturday.

The Ministry of Energy and Mines tweeted that firefighters and other specialists were trying to stop the blaze at the Matanzas Supertanker Base, where the fire started Friday night during a thunderstorm.

The dubrocq neighbourhood is close to the fire, and about 800 people were evacuated, according to authorities.

The government asked for help from international experts in friendly countries with experience in the oil sector.

The US government had offered technical help to stop the blaze, according to Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fern ndez de Coss.

On his Twitter account, he said the proposal is in the hands of specialists for the due coordination. Minutes later, President Miguel D az-Canel thanked Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile for their help. A support flight from Mexico arrived Saturday night.

The official Cuban News Agency said lightning hit one tank, starting a fire, and the blaze later spread to a second tank.

A dense column of black smoke billowed from the facility and spread westward more than 100 kilometres toward Havana as military helicopters flew overhead dropping water on the blaze.

Roberto de la Torre, head of fire operations in Matanzas, said firefighters were spraying water on intact tanks in order to keep them cool in hopes of preventing the fire from spreading.

Cuba's Health Ministry reported that 121 people were injured with five of them in critical condition. The Presidency of the Republic said 17 people missing were firefighters who were in the nearest area to try to prevent the spread Later on Saturday, the Health Ministry said in a statement that officials were trying to identify the person.

The accident came as Cuba struggles with fuel shortages. There was no immediate word on how much oil had burned or was in danger at the storage facility, which has eight giant tanks that hold oil used to fuel electricity generating plants.

I was in the gym when I felt the first explosion. A column of smoke and terrible fire went through the skies, resident Adiel Gonzalez told the Associated Press.

He said some people decided to leave the Versailles district, which is a little further from the tank farm than Dubrocq.

Many ambulances, police and fire engines were seen in the streets of Matanzas, a city with about 140,000 inhabitants that is on Matanzas Bay.

Local meteorologist Elier Pila showed satellite images of the area with a dense cloud of black smoke moving west from the point of the fire toward the capital, Havana.

That plume can be close to 150 kilometres long, Mr Pila wrote on his Twitter account.