Cuba’s Weak Electric System is in Danger Because of a Fire at an Oil Facility!
Monday, a deadly fire that started at a large oil storage facility in western Cuba spread, forcing officials to shut down a key thermoelectric plant. The fire, which started at a large oil storage facility, threatened to push the island further into an energy crisis.
Around dawn, flames spread to a third tank that firefighters had been trying to cool down as they fight the huge fire in the western province of Matanza. The fire started just days after the government said Havana would have blackouts.
“I am very worried about the children, the elderly, the economy of Matanzas, and the country,” said Dailyn de la Caridad, a 28-year-old resident. “We don’t know how this is going to end.”
Since lightning hit one of the facility’s eight tanks on Friday night, at least one person has died, 125 have been hurt, and 14 are still missing. Saturday, a second tank caught fire, which caused several explosions at the facility, which is an important part of Cuba’s electricity system.
“The risk we had announced happened, and the blaze of the second tank compromised the third one,” said Matanzas Gov. Mario Sabines.
Alexander valos, Lt. Col. Chief of Cuba’s fire department, told Televisión Cubana that four tanks had been broken into by Monday night.
“The fire has taken on a greater magnitude,” he said.
Firefighters had sprayed water on the remaining tanks over the weekend to cool them but failed to stop the fire from spreading. On Monday afternoon, the government’s power company announced that the fire had forced the shut down of a thermoelectric plant that provides power to the island’s western region after it ran out of water, according to the official Cubadebate website. No further details were immediately available.
The governments of Mexico and Venezuela have sent special teams to help put out the fire. Water cannons, planes, and helicopters are fighting the fire from different directions while military construction experts build barriers to stop oil spills.
Officials in the area told people to wear face masks or stay inside because of the thick, billowing smoke that could be seen from the capital city of Havana, which is more than 65 miles (100 kilometers) away. Officials have warned that the cloud contains poisonous substances like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and others.
Most of the people who were hurt had burns or inhaled smoke, and five of them are still in critical condition. There are still 24 people in hospitals. Over the weekend, authorities found the body of one firefighter. Meanwhile, family members of those who were still missing gathered at a hotel to wait for news about their loved ones.
Sabines and Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel said it was impossible to search for the missing firefighters given the roiling temperatures.
The blaze at the Matanzas Supertanker Base in Matanzas city prompted officials to evacuate more than 4,900 people, most of them from the nearby Dubrocq neighborhood. The facility’s eight huge tanks hold oil used to generate electricity, although it wasn’t clear how much fuel has been lost as a result of the flames. The first tank that caught fire was at 50% capacity and contained nearly 883,000 cubic feet (25,000 cubic meters) of fuel. The second tank was full.
Jorge Piñon, director of the Latin America and Caribbean Energy Program at the University of Texas, said officials should inspect the walls of tanks that aren’t on fire to ensure they weren’t affected. He also warned that the government must be careful before bringing the system back online once the fire is extinguished.
“If not, there’ll be another catastrophe,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is going to take time.”
Pion said that the facility gets crude oil from Cuba through a pipeline that runs through the middle of the country. The crude oil is then taken by small tankers to thermoelectric plants that make electricity. It is also the place where imported crude oil, fuel oil, and diesel are unloaded and sent to other places. Cuba only makes half of the fuel it needs to keep its economy going.
The blaze comes as Cuba struggles through a deep economic crisis and faces frequent power outages amid a sweltering summer, issues that helped unleashed unprecedented antigovernment protests last year. Officials have not provided a preliminary estimate of damages.
Associated Press videographer Osvaldo Angulo in Matanzas, Cuba, contributed.