Dozens injured and 17 missing after lightning sparks huge fire at Cuban supertanker port

Dozens injured and 17 missing after lightning sparks huge fire at Cuban supertanker port

Dozens of people have been injured and 17 firefighters are missing after lightning struck fuel tanks at a supertanker port in Cuba, sparking explosions and raging fires.

The fire broke out during a thunderstorm on Friday night in the city of Matanzas and raged out of control on Saturday despite firefighters’ efforts to extinguish it.

The official Cuban news agency said a lightning strike set an oil tank on fire at the Matanzas Supertanker Base and that the fire later spread to another fuel tank.

At least 67 people have been injured in four explosions and 17 firefighters are still unaccounted for, according to Cuban state television. Civilians had already been evacuated from the area.

Dozens have been injured and 17 people are missing after lightning struck two fuel storage tanks in Cuba

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Dozens have been injured and 17 people are missing after lightning struck two fuel tanks in Cuba

(EPA)

Health Minister Josã Angel Portal Miranda said in a Twitter post that three of the injured were in critical condition and 15 in a “serious” condition.

Seven patients were transferred to hospitals in the capital, Havana.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel visited the scene 80 miles east of Havana around midnight Friday and returned during the morning as state-run television broadcast live coverage of the unfolding disaster.

Mr Diaz-Canel posted on Twitter before the second explosion that first responders were “trying to prevent the spread of the flames and any fuel spillage” into Matanzas Bay.

A huge blaze raged through the night after a second tank was hit on Friday evening

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A huge fire raged through the night after a second tank was hit on Friday night

(REUTERS)

A later tweet from his office said Cuba was asking “friendly” nations with experience in the oil sector for help.

By Saturday morning, the fire appeared completely out of control, threatening other nearby fuel tanks as smoke reached Havana, more than 60 miles away.

“I was in the gym when I felt the first explosion. A column of smoke and terrible fire rose through the sky, resident Adiel Gonzalez said, adding that the city has a “strong smell of sulphur”.

A paramedic at the scene, who asked not to be identified, said by phone that cold water was being poured onto nearby tanks.

The fire comes as Cuba suffers daily power outages and fuel shortages, problems likely to be exacerbated by the fire.

Jorge Pinon, director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Program on Energy and the Environment in Latin America and the Caribbean, said the site had eight large tanks each with a capacity of 300,000 barrels.

“The area is a transshipment point for fuel for various thermoelectric plants, not just the one nearby, so this could be very bad news for the power grid,” he said.

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