MATANZAS (AFP) – Helicopters scrambled on Monday (Aug 8) to contain a days-old blaze that felled a third tank at a fuel depot in Cuba, as the search continued for 16 missing firefighters.
According to an official update, the confirmed toll from the fire was one 60-year-old fireman dead, with 24 people hospitalised – five of them in critical condition.
More than 100 others were injured, most suffering burn wounds, and some 5,000 people have been evacuated from around the disaster zone, authorities reported.
The fire on the outskirts of Matanzas, a city of 140,000 people 100km east of Havana, broke out late Friday after lightning struck one of eight tanks at the depot.
On Monday, the governor of the western Matanzas province said the blaze had spread to a third tank, which collapsed like two others before it did over the weekend.
“The third tank also collapsed, after the second spilled its fuel” as it caved in on Sunday, governor Mario Sabines told state TV.
He said the blaze area was “very big” and the containment effort “very complex”. Deputy fire chief Alexander Avalos Jorge said later on Monday that as a result of that collapse, a fourth tank has also been affected.
“It’s been a chain reaction,” he said.
Aircraft, firefighters and other specialists and equipment arrived in Cuba from Mexico and Venezuela on Sunday after the island nation asked for help from “friendly countries”.
Mr Sabines said the teams were preparing an operation to douse the flames with foam, “but this could take a while”.
“Work is intensifying to combat the fire,” the Cuban presidency said on Twitter, adding Monday would be a “decisive day” for the effort.
Family members of the missing firefighters met President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Sunday at a hotel in Matanzas, where they were given access to doctors and psychologists.
“My son was doing his duty, he stepped forward,” said the distraught mother of one 19-year-old fireman who was at the depot when the second fuel tank caught fire.
Health officials said they were monitoring the air quality, and advised at-risk people to wear masks in smoke-affected areas and to avoid being out in the rain.
After the first tank caught fire late on Friday, the blaze spread to a second tank by the early hours of Saturday.
The first two tanks collapsed overnight on Sunday, causing three more reported injuries and spilling their oil.
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