A gruesome fire in Cuba has reached its fourth day. A fuel deposit has been burning since Friday in Matanzas, in western Cuba, in what has already been described as the biggest industrial disaster in the country's history.
After a second oil tank collapsed late Sunday, fears that the fire will continue to spread mounted in a country that is heavily dependent on fuel for the production of electricity.
The large-scale fire started on Friday when lightning struck a tank, part of an 8-tank fuel storage plant.
One person has died and 16 others have been reported missing so far as a result of the flames.
Tank number 2 has just collapsed, it is not yet clear if the explosion has blown off the cap of tank 3 at the supertanker fuel base, the provincial government of the People's Power of Matanzas, a city 105 kilometers from Havana, reported on its Facebook page.
The first tank contained 26,000 cubic meters of crude oil, about 50% of its maximum capacity.
During the early hours of Saturday morning this large cylinder with a concave lid collapsed and the fire spread to a second tank containing 52,000 cubic meters of fuel oil. The latter collapsed at midnight on Sunday.
Cuban Presidency sources also confirmed an oil spill from the second tank and assured that the third tank did not collapse, despite mounting fears.
Given this risk the forces working at the site had been evacuated on Sunday night, AFP reported. People in the adjacent areas were advised to wear face masks.
According to the latest medical report, 24 people remained hospitalized, five of them in critical condition, in addition to the 16 people missing, who are firefighters who were in the closest area to the fire.
Firefighter Juan Carlos Santana, 60, was buried Sunday with honors in his native town of Rodas, in the neighboring province of Cienfuegos.
Relatives of those missing met with President Miguel Diaz-Canel in a downtown hotel in Matanzas, where they are assisted by doctors and psychologists.
This would be the most devastating event associated with an electrical discharge in Cuba, estimated Luis Enrique Ramos Guadalupe, historian of meteorology in Cuba, in statements to the official newspaper Granma.
There are no references in the archives of a similar event that has generated an incident of such magnitude, he said.
According to Prensa Latina, some 4,000 people have already been evacuated from the adjacent areas as helicopters dropped seawater on the blaze.
Specialists from Mexico and Venezuela were also summoned to assist Cuban authorities and it was reported that Jamaica too would send a team of experts. China has also offered to help, according to reports in Havana.
The fire goes beyond the casualties it can cause with the explosions. The emission into the atmosphere of the dense column of black smoke will increase acid rains in Matanzas, where it occurs, and in other provinces, including Havana, warned the government.
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