- BBC News World
A huge pillar of smoke casts a shadow over western Cuba.
At least one person died, 16 people were missing and about 125 were injured in a fire at the island’s largest fuel depot that has not been extinguished nearly three days later.
Rescue teams from Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela were working to put out the blaze on Monday, but the situation worsened when a third warehouse caught fire and collapsed in the early hours of the morning.
“The danger we declared happened,” provincial governor Mario Sabines confirmed to local reporters, noting that the fire had spread to other warehouses.
In a tweet Monday morning, President Miguel Díaz-Canel indicated that authorities continue to “evaluate the strategy for the next few hours” and indicated that what happens this Monday will be decisive in containing the fire.
“This is an important, decisive day,” he said.
Images in local media and social networks showed smoke billowing even in the provinces of Mayabeque and Havana, while some towns in Matanzas reported toxic rain.
But why was it so difficult to put out this fire?
Here at BBC Mundo we bring you some tips about the disaster.
A fire broke out in a storage tank near Edi Minnal on Friday night Super Tanker site According to the official version, from the city of Matanzas.
Strong winds made extinguishing work difficult and flames were carried to a second deposit that exploded at 07:00 local time (11:00 GMT) on Saturday.
After a fresh explosion on Sunday, the fuel reached a third tank, which also caught fire.
Although the official press confirmed that these deposits contained lightning rods, it is not known whether they were effective or whether modern protection systems against electric shock, emergency equipment or fire control were in place.
Cuban meteorologist Luis Enrique Ramos Guadalupe told Granma that it would be the most destructive lightning-related event in history.
“There is no reference in the archives that produced an event of such magnitude. According to the chronology analyzed, the first fire caused by that cause occurred in the middle of a storm on June 30, 1741. Lightning struck one of the masts of the ship Invisible, which was docked at the San Francisco docks in Havana,” he said.
Since Friday, numerous explosions have been heard and thick smoke has spread over 100 kilometers to the west.
Meanwhile, health officials are asking residents of Madanzas to wear masks to avoid inhaling the toxic particles.
Why not restricted?
Cuba, which is experiencing a deep economic crisis and shortages of the most essential goods such as soap or medicine, lacks the technology and resources to fight this type of fire and its infrastructure is either aging or severely deficient.
Despite the size of the fire, as of Monday morning only three helicopters had been sent to the area to try to control the fire with “sea water”, the official Cubatpad site said.
“Three military helicopters made more than 60 launches of 2,500 liters of seawater each in the area of the third fuel tank dome collapse incident this morning,” the release said.
He said a “bumigation flight” would be attached later on Monday.
The governor of Matanzas pointed out that one of the elements that complicated the firefighters’ work. Difficult access to the burned area due to the density of smoke and lack of oxygen.
Cuba’s rescue teams, moreover, are not used to or trained for such situations, as a large proportion of the island’s firefighters are young men doing mandatory military service.
The Cuban government asked for international help as the fire was out of control on Saturday and teams from Venezuela and Mexico were the first to arrive on the island.
According to Cuban officials, 60 members of the Mexican Armed Forces, 16 technicians from the Pemex oil company, and 35 specialized firefighters and technicians from Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) were at the scene.
This Monday, a Venezuelan pumping device known as the Dominator will begin operating to release chemical agents to help put out the fires, Granma reported.
According to local press, the amount of crude oil in the tanks is another factor complicating the work.
The facility has a capacity of eight tanks 50,000 cubic meters each (equivalent to 15 Olympic swimming pools), the amount of fuel in the burning tanks is currently unclear.
However, it is known that 700,000 barrels sent to the island by Russia last June have arrived there.
What is known about the victims?
Granma has identified the only fatality so far as 62-year-old Juan Carlos Santana Garrido, who worked for a special fire protection command at a refinery in Cienfuegos province.
Another 16 people are still missing, official news reports said, adding that firefighters arrived at the scene within the first hour of the blaze.
Cuban authorities have not identified the missing and have announced that the recovery of the bodies will not begin until the fire is out.
The Health Ministry said on Monday that five of the 20 people admitted to the hospital are in critical condition and two are critical.
About 5,000 people living in the surrounding area were evacuated and authorities asked residents of Matanzas on Monday to close doors and windows to avoid inhaling toxic gases.
A column of smoke began to appear in the capital this Monday, with some areas even blacked out, according to pictures posted by local newspapers and social networks.
The local radio 26 reported a dirty rain fall in parts of Matanzas.
What is material damage?
Cuban officials have yet to provide a preliminary damage assessment, but the main fuel storage and transfer facility on the island is the Matanzas Supertanker site.
A fire broke out in an industrial area near the Antonio Guiteras thermoelectric plant, one of the largest thermoelectric plants in Cuba, which resulted in non-operation this Monday.
The fires come at a time when the island is experiencing a widespread energy crisis, which has led to constant and prolonged blackouts in much of the country.
In some parts of the island, they only get electricity for one or two hours a day, as confirmed by the Electricity Association.
In Matanzas is Varadero Beach, the island’s main tourist destination, which is still trying to recover from the devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
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