Cuban, Mexican, and Venezuelan firefighters and special forces continued to fight a major fuel depot fire in the coastal city of Matanzas, about 100 kilometers east of Havana, throughout Tuesday. Helicopters were deployed to spray the oil tanks, or what was left of them, with foam – until now they had been prevented by the high temperatures – while military construction specialists erected barriers to contain the leak.
Mexico and Venezuela sent technical brigades to support the firefighting work because Cuba had neither the experience nor the technical equipment to fight a fire of this size. The US also offered “technical advice” to Cuba.
Puffs of black smoke over the Matanzas tank farm
Work on decommissioning will take several days
After four days, the fire is still not fully contained. However, according to authorities, on Tuesday evening local time, progress had already been made on containment. The flames can still be seen on the surface of the tanks, although they are not large, he says. It is expected that the firefighting works will continue for a few more days. The fourth large tank also collapsed earlier. On Monday, the third tank caught fire “after a fuel leak from the second,” Matanzas Governor Mario Sabines told the press. The latter, in turn, collapsed on Sunday night after nearly 40 hours of burning, causing a huge fireball that illuminated the entire city of Matanzas and was even visible at the Malecón in Havana. Sabines likened the situation to an “Olympic torch” jumping from one tank to another.
According to the state-owned oil company Cupet, the first tank that ignited contained approximately 26 million liters of crude oil, or 50 percent of its capacity. The second one contained 52 million liters of heating oil. The third tank also had 52 million liters, but there is no official information on how much oil was in it. According to the authorities, the fourth tank was previously emptied. Four other large tanks at the Matanzas fuel base that were not affected by the fire were preserved and safe, a Department of Defense official said Tuesday afternoon.
Visible from afar across Matanzas Bay: a fire at a tank farm
A major fire broke out Friday night after a lightning strike struck an oil tank at the Matanzas supertanker base. According to preliminary findings, the lightning rod technology in the tank was overwhelmed by the intensity of the electric discharge. So far, there has been one death and 14 others have gone missing. However, the search for the missing firefighters is difficult, as on Tuesday the accident site was still difficult to access due to high temperatures.
The tank farm is essential for supplies on the island
According to official information, about 5,000 people were evacuated from the crash area. There were also over 120 injured. Most of them were treated for burns and smoke inhalation, but five remained in critical condition on Tuesday. Local authorities urged residents to wear face masks or stay indoors. However, there is no acute health risk. The trail of smoke that enveloped the region could even be seen in the capital, Havana, almost 100 km away.
The Matanzas facility, with eight tanks, is the most important on the island and is crucial to powering the thermoelectric power plants. It also serves as an unloading and transhipment point for imported crude oil, heating oil and diesel fuel. The accident happened at a time when Cuba is struggling with fuel shortages, and due to the poor technical condition of many power plants, power cuts lasting several hours are on the agenda. The disaster is likely to aggravate the island’s energy crisis even further.
On Monday, due to the fire, the largest power plant in the country had to be taken off the grid. The Ministry of Energy announced that it has shut down the Antonio Guiteras thermal power plant in Matanzas due to lack of water. The fire affected the plant’s water supply. Due to the failure of the power plant, only slightly more than half of the maximum electricity demand in the entire country could be covered. On Tuesday evening, the plant was re-synchronized with the national grid, but had to be shut down again after 17 minutes. The reasons were initially unclear.