MATANZAS | The gigantic fire which broke out on Friday in an oil depot east of Havana and which, according to a provisional report, left one dead and 14 missing, is “under control”, firefighters announced on Wednesday.
“You could say the fire is under control,” Cuba's deputy fire chief, Alexander Avalos Jorge, told reporters, hailing the assistance provided by Mexico and Venezuela.
The disaster began Friday evening when lightning struck a first tank in the oil complex located in the suburbs of Matanzas, a city of 140,000 inhabitants 100 km east of Havana. The fire then spread to three other tanks that can contain up to 52 million liters of diesel or crude oil.
“We are more serene”, rejoiced Mr. Avalos, specifying the total extinction of the flames fed by the enormous quantities of oil “is not for today”.
A Cuban pilot who flew over the area early Wednesday told national television that one of the tanks “is practically extinct” and that “today we are going to put the finishing touches on it”.
According to images shot by this Mexican Navy helicopter, the fire of a second tank is belching less smoke and flames than in previous days.
Smoke still just as dense and black, making visibility difficult, escaped from two other tanks, but the columns of flames rising in the sky also seemed less high.
“The work was effective added the Cuban pilot in reference to efforts to contain the fire at a distance from the group of four other mega-tanks at the depot, located 150 meters from the blaze.
A navy firefighting vessel Mexican launches water 150 meters away and five helicopters carry out incessant drops. In the distance, the plume of smoke rising in the sky appears clearer, AFP journalists noted.
“Recovering the victims”
One firefighter was killed and 14 are missing, according to a provisional report. Twenty people are still hospitalized out of the 128 injured.
On Tuesday, President Miguel Diaz-Canel told the press that with the progress made “we will be able to go and recover the victims”, deceased mostly Saturday at dawn when an explosion blew the first tank on fire.
“It will be a very difficult moment” for which “we must be prepared and give our support to these families”, he added.
Some 17 planes in total, 13 from Mexico and four from Venezuela, carrying oil firefighting specialists and fire extinguishing foam landed at the resort town of Varadero, 40 kilometers northeast of Matanzas.
Mexico sent nearly 45,000 liters of fire-fighting foam, 171 rolls of hose, 10 helicopter water-drop units, two foam spray pumps and 300 kilos of medicine.
Washington, after having expressed his condolences as early as Saturday, “offered his technical assistance, which we also appreciated and accepted. The two governments are in regular contact. No need to speculate,” Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernandez de Cossio tweeted, referring to posts on social media complaining that Havana is not accepting US aid.
This fire at Cuba's largest crude oil storage center, strategic for supplying the country's thermoelectric power stations, will have consequences for the island's electricity supply.
The neighboring thermoelectric power station of 'Antonio Guiteras, supplied with fuel by a pipeline coming from this oil depot, was put back into service on Wednesday after two days of stoppage, making it possible to limit power cuts throughout the country which was already facing a severe shortage of production.