Over 120 Cubans have been injured after an explosion and huge fire ignited by a lightning strike which hit an oil storage facility on Friday.
The massive oil-fed fire burned for a second day on Saturday near Cuba’s super tanker port in Matanzas, as Mexico and Venezuela sent teams to help fight the inferno and Cuba accepted a US offer of unspecified “technical advice”.
On Friday evening, lightning struck one of eight storage tanks at the facility 60 miles east of Havana. Heat from the blaze reached a second tank on Saturday and the wind blew flames dangerously close to a third.
Four explosions have been reported at the site with at least 120 injured. Seventeen firefighters who were in a nearby area and trying to stop the blaze from spreading have been reported missing.
“We express deep gratitude to the governments of Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Chile ... which have promptly offered material aid in the face of this complex situation,” tweeted Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel. “We also appreciate the offer of technical advice from the US,” he said.
Cuban authorities said one person is listed as dead and the firefighters are unaccounted for. More than 1,000 civilians were evacuated from the area.
As helicopters flew overhead to drop water, a dense column of black smoke billowed from the site and spread westwards towards the capital Havana.
The storage facility is equipped with eight giant tanks that hold oil which is used to fuel electricity generating plants.
Diaz-Canel visited the scene around midnight, then returned to spend Saturday coordinating the response as state-run television broadcast live coverage of the unfolding disaster.
Before the second blast, Diaz-Canel posted on Twitter that first responders were “trying to avert the spread of the flames and any spill of fuel” into the Matanzas bay.