A lightning strike has destroyed an oil storage facility in the Cuban city of Matanzas, causing explosions and injuring 121 people. Seventeen firefighters were missing and one body was found, Cuban authorities said.
The ministry of energy and mines said that the blaze at the Matanzas supertanker base began during a thunderstorm on Friday night. The government said at the end of the day that it had asked for help from international experts in friendly countries with experience in the oil sector.
The official Cuban news agency said that lightning hit a 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 to the west more than 100 km 62 miles 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.
Some of the injured were taken to Calixto Garc a hospital in Havana, which has a prominent burn unit.
The accident comes as Cuba struggles with fuel shortages. There was no immediate word on how much oil had burned 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 raged through the skies, resident Adiel Gonzalez told the Associated Press. The city has a strong smell of sulphur. About 800 people were evacuated from the Dubrocq neighbourhood next to the fire, according to authorities, while Gonzalez said that some people decided to leave the Versailles district, which is a little further from the tank farm.
Many ambulances, police and fire engines were seen in the streets of Matanzas, a city with about 140,000 inhabitants on Matanzas Bay.
The Cuban president, Miguel D az-Canel, travelled to the area of the fire early Saturday, officials said.
Miguel D az-Canel thanked Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile for their help. A support flight from Mexico arrived on Saturday night.
Local meteorologist Elier Pila showed satellite images of the area with a dense cloud of black smoke moving from the point of fire to the west and east to Havana.
Pila wrote on his Twitter account that the plume can be close to 150 km long.