Venezuela's biggest refinery is on track to restart within two days, the Energy minister said on Sunday, a day after an explosion and fire there killed 41people in one of the global oil industry's deadliest accidents.
Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez said the fire was now contained in two storage tanks, reiterating that no production units had been affected by Saturday's pre-dawn disaster at the 645,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) Amuay refinery, which sits on a peninsula in the Caribbean in western Venezuela.
On Sunday, the skeletal remains of a National Guard barracks destroyed in the blast sagged amid broken concrete and rubble, amid flames and huge plumes of smoke coming from the two burning tanks, which contained naphtha and crude oil.
The explosion flattened some homes in the immediate vicinity, in some cases just across the street from the refinery's fence. Nearby roads were covered with petroleum.
The victims included 18 National Guard troops and 17 civilians; six remain unidentified.
According to witnesses said fire-fighters did not appear to be trying to extinguish the blaze just before midday on Sunday, suggesting that the authorities may have decided to let the remaining fuel in the tanks burn itself out.
The accident, which also wounded dozens of people, was the worst to hit Venezuela's oil industry. It follows a decade of repeated outages and accidents at installations run by state oil company PDVSA that have prompted allegations of mismanagement by President Hugo Chavez's government.
But the incident is likely to have little impact on world fuel prices because Venezuela can use its existing fuel stocks to supply the country's domestic market, as well as maintain exports.
It ranks as one of the deadliest refinery accidents in the recent history of the global oil industry, approaching the toll of the 1997 fire at Hindustan Petroleum's Visakhapatnam refinery in India that killed 56, and topping the 2005 BP Texas City refinery blast that killed 15 workers.
Amuay had already partially shut operations at least twice this year due to a small fire and the failure of a cooling unit.