Cuban oil storage terminal rocked by explosions, dozens injured

A major fire spread unchecked at a large oil storage facility in the Cuban port of Matanzas, where explosions and flames left at least 121 injured and 17 firefighters, authorities said on Saturday.

A huge column of black smoke, visible for miles, rose hundreds of feet into the air from the blaze that enveloped two of the eight large fuel tanks at the Matanzas Supertanker Base, a storage terminal near one of Cuba’s major power plants, about 50 miles south. east of the capital Havana.

The fire was caused by a lightning bolt in a storm on Friday night, authorities said. More than 1,900 residents and workers have been evacuated and at least eight people were seriously injured. The Communist Party newspaper Granma said authorities had no news about the missing firefighters late Saturday.

According to authorities, the fire caused several large explosions. The mist and smell of burning fuel reached the island’s capital, residents said on social media.

“We are working hard and in very difficult circumstances,” Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel wrote on Twitter. “It may take some time to put out the fire.”

The terminal is the only one on the island equipped to handle large oil tankers. It’s also where crude oil produced in Cuba is stored, blended and shipped to other power plants that power the grid, said Jorge Piñón, a Cuba and energy expert at the University of Texas at Austin.

“It is the hub of the wheel of Cuba’s infrastructure,” he said. If damage to the terminal is extensive, Cuba could be forced to halt its oil production, which is estimated to be around 40,000 barrels per day, Mr Piñón added.

The US State Department said it had offered technical assistance, for which Díaz-Canel said he was grateful. Mexico and Venezuela, which have large state-run oil industries, were among the countries sending aid on Saturday, Cuban authorities said.

The communist island is already experiencing an energy crisis, including power outages due to fuel shortages and poor maintenance of aging power plants. Power outages have lasted up to 12 hours in some inland areas of the island, spoiling food in the sweltering summer heat and causing widespread shortages of food, medicine and basic goods for residents. Hours of programmed power outages have also recently been implemented in major cities such as Havana.

The energy crisis and deep economic contraction are fueling social unrest a year after mass demonstrations swept across the country.

“It was one belly after another,” said Miguel Bustamante, a Cuba expert at the University of Miami.

Local authorities said on Saturday that Antonio Guiteras’ power plant had enough fuel to last for just 48 hours as pumping from the Matanzas terminal had been halted.

“If that plant goes down, it’s hard to imagine what would happen to the entire island’s electricity grid,” Mr Bustamante added.

It was the second major disaster to hit Cuba in recent months. In early May, 46 people were killed and dozens more injured when a gas explosion ripped through Hotel Saratoga in Havana, just days before the famous state hotel was due to reopen after renovations.

Poor economic conditions and ongoing political repression have prompted tens of thousands of Cubans to migrate to the US over the past year.

Photos: More migrants have tried to cross the sea to the US

Despite last year’s crackdown on protests, there have been more than 40 spontaneous demonstrations demanding the restoration of electricity supplies and civil rights since mid-June, according to estimates by Inventario, an online publication that monitors data and social media in Cuba.

During protests, internet connectivity has been disrupted to prevent residents from directly sharing videos and images on social media to encourage participation. More than 26 people have been detained by security forces during recent protests, according to Justicia 11J, a Cuban civil society group following the detentions in the country.

Write to José de Córdoba at and Santiago Pérez at

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