Tens of millions of liters of oil explode in Cuba after a lightning strike. Despite support from abroad, the fire brigade is still unable to fight the flames after more than a day. For the island, which is plagued by power outages, the loss of energy reserves is a severe blow.
Rescuers are still battling the flames after a series of explosions at a fuel depot in northern Cuba. The extinguishing work could take a while, said President Miguel Díaz-Canel on Saturday. In the meantime, more than 100 people have been treated in the hospital, and on Sunday night (local time) there were still 36 patients, the Cuban government said. Eight of the victims were in critical condition. President Díaz-Canel assessed the situation on the spot and visited the victims in the hospital.
Lightning struck a fuel tank at the camp on Friday night, triggering an explosion. By Saturday, the flames had spread to another tank, which also blew up. According to the state newspaper "Granma", a lightning conductor had apparently failed.
Port operations in Matanzas have been temporarily suspended. The authorities diverted the ships to other ports. According to the provincial government, around 800 people from neighboring residential areas were brought to safety. At least 17 people who worked near the tanks are still missing. Due to the high temperatures, the emergency services were initially unable to advance further to look for the missing persons.
In the fight against the fire, "friendly states with experience in handling fuel" have been asked for help, the Cuban Presidential Office said. President Miguel Diaz-Canel thanked Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile for "promptly providing assistance." The USA had also "offered technical advice".
According to the state oil company Cupet, it is the largest fire in Cuba to date. According to this, around 78 million liters of oil are affected. The fuel depot belonged to the largest combined heat and power plant in Cuba. According to the authorities, its operation was not affected by the accident.
The fire comes at a time when the communist state, with its aging power grid and persistent fuel shortages, is struggling to meet increased energy demands in the intense summer heat. Most recently, power outages have repeatedly occurred on the socialist Caribbean island, which is suffering from a severe economic crisis. Since May, authorities in some regions have imposed power cuts for up to 12 hours a day. This led to numerous protests.