HAVANA — Lightning struck a crude oil storage tank in the city of Matanzas, setting off 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 put out the blaze at the Matanzas Supertanker Base, which started during a thunderstorm Friday night, the Department of Energy and Mines tweeted.
The official Cuban news agency said the lightning struck one tank and the fire later spread to a second tank.
The Matanzas provincial government’s Facebook page said the number of injured had reached 77, while 17 people were missing. The republic’s presidency said the 17 were “firefighters who were in the nearest area to prevent the spread”.
The accident comes as Cuba struggles with fuel shortages. There was no immediate report on how much oil had been burned or endangered at the tank farm, which stores oil used to fuel electricity production.
“I was at the gym when I felt the first explosion. A column of smoke and terrible fire rose through the air,” resident Adiel Gonzalez told The The AU Times by phone. “The city has a strong sulfur smell.”
Authorities said the Dubrocq neighborhood closest to the fire had been evacuated, while Gonzalez added that some people decided to leave the Versailles neighborhood, which is a little further from the tank farm.
There were many ambulances, police and fire engines, he said.
Matanzas, which has a population of about 140,000, is located 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Havana, on Matnzas Bay.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel traveled to the area of the fire early Saturday, officials said.
Local meteorologist Elier Pila showed satellite images of the area with a dense plume of black smoke moving west from the tip of the fire and reaching east to Havana.
“That plume could be almost 150 kilometers long,” Pila wrote on his Twitter account.
Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP