Inferno: Another massive explosion at Cuban oil facility

The tweet below reads “Terrible images come to us from Matanzas where a new explosion has just taken place.”

Here’s another angle on the latest explosion:

The fire started Friday night after lightning struck the facility. Since then, more than 100 firefighters have been injured trying to put it out.

As of Monday morning, 125 people had been injured, 17 firefighters were missing, and one responding officer was dead. At least 24 people remained hospitalized, five of them in critical condition, officials said.

The fire broke out around 7 p.m. Friday when lightning struck one of the crude storage deposits at a supertanker base in northwestern Cuba, some 55 miles east of Havana. The flames quickly spread to a second tank, setting off multiple explosions. It also prompted the evacuation of nearly 5,000 people from the neighboring region, Matanzas Gov. Mario Sabines Lorenzo said, according to state media.

But Sunday brought worsening conditions when strong winds fanned the flames, according to Cuba’s Ministry of Energy and Mining. As night fell over the island, the second tank to catch fire exploded and collapsed, spewing burning oil and flames into surrounding vegetation and setting a third tank ablaze.

So as of last night a third tank was in danger and today Reuters reported it had collapsed. But the Post contradicted that report and said the tank hadn’t collapsed but was “under risk.” Now I’m wondering if the latest explosion seen in the video above was the third tank. Here’s what the blaze looked like Sunday.

This image of firefighters at the scene is incredible.

This clip shows the fire when this all started on Friday.

Mexico and Venezuela have now joined the efforts to fight the fire. The situation is dire enough that Cuba has even accepted help from the United States.

The Cuban government said it has accepted “technical guidance” offered by the United States to help the island’s authorities put out a raging fire that threatens to engulf an oil storage facility at the port of Matanzas, in what could be one of the few examples of cooperation between the two countries in recent years.

“We deeply appreciate the condolences and expressions of help from people and organizations in the U.S. regarding the #Matanzas incident, including from the U.S. government, which offered technical advice, a proposal already in the hands of specialists for proper coordination,” Carlos Fernández de Cossío, Cuba’s vice minister of foreign affairs, said on Twitter.

Cooperation between the US and Cuba is something you don’t see very often but this is really a worst case scenario. Matanzas is Cuba’s largest facility for receiving oil from tankers and if that’s destroyed by fire it could take a long time before Cuba can restore it to operation.

Just last month I wrote about the series of blackouts that much of Cuba has been experiencing. When there were blackouts last summer it started a series of protests against the government. The ruling communists rolled out Raul Castro to try to quiet the outrage. But when the blackouts started again this summer, there were once again thousands of people in the streets to protest. The communist revolution in Cuba has survive a lot of things but cutting off people’s power in the middle of summer may be the last straw.

But all of that was happening before this fire. You can imagine how much worst the situation is likely to become now that the supply of oil has been effectively cut off for the foreseeable future.

Residents expressed fear that the crisis will worsen as the hottest months of the year bear down.

“Oh my God, no lights and no gas, that is what this means,” Havana resident Pia Ferrer exclaimed in an upscale neighborhood of Havana.

Havana has been mostly spared from the blackouts in the past. Some have claimed that was a strategic choice made by the government to keep residents of the capital on their side. They won’t be able to do that for much longer. This disaster could become a turning point for the future of Cuba.