Scores Hurt, Missing After Lightning Hits Oil Tank



Lightning struck a crude oil storage tank in the city of Matanzas, causing a spreading fire that led to four explosions that injured nearly 80 people and left 17 firefighters missing, Cuban authorities said Saturday. Firefighters and other specialists were still trying to quell the blaze at the Matanzas Supertanker Base, the AP reports. The strike occurred during a thunderstorm Friday night, the Ministry of Energy and Mines tweeted. The official Cuban News Agency said that lightning set one tank on fire and that the blaze later spread to a second tank. The Presidency of the Republic said the 17 missing were “firefighters who were in the nearest area trying to prevent the spread.”

“I was in the gym when I felt the first explosion. A column of smoke and terrible fire rose through the skies,” resident Adiel Gonzalez said. “The city has a strong smell of sulfur.” Authorities said the Dubrocq neighborhood closest to the fire was evacuated, while Gonzalez added that some people decided to leave the Versailles district, which is a little farther from the tank farm. There were many ambulances, police and fire engines, he said. Matanzas, which has about 140,000 inhabitants, is about 160 miles from Havana, on Matnzas Bay. Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel traveled to the area of the fire early Saturday, officials said.

The injured included three journalists who arrived at 4am just before one of the explosions, per the Miami Herald. Local meteorologist Elier Pila showed satellite images of the area with a dense plume of black smoke moving from the point of the fire westward and reaching east to Havana. “That plume can be close to 150 kilometers long,” Pila wrote on his Twitter account. Cuba is struggling with fuel shortages. There was no immediate word on how much oil had burned or was in danger at the tank farm, which stores oil used to fuel electricity production.

(Read more Cuba stories.)

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