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Pictures |  massive fire at an oil depot in Cuba;  17 missing and 77 wounded

Pictures | massive fire at an oil depot in Cuba; 17 missing and 77 wounded

Seventeen people were missing and 77 others injured in a massive fire that broke out in a lightning-hit fuel depot in western Cuba, which requested international aid on Saturday.

The Cuban Presidency stated that the 17 missing persons were “firefighters who were in the area closest to the fire” when the explosion occurred, which “requested help and advice from friendly countries with experience in the oil sector.”

On Twitter, President Miguel Diaz-Canel estimated that the fire “may take some time” to be brought under control.

The official Granma newspaper reported that three of the injured were in critical condition, three were in a very serious condition, and 12 people were seriously injured.

The fire broke out Friday evening when a lightning strike struck an oil depot on the outskirts of Matanzas, a city of 140,000 people 100 kilometers east of Havana. Then the fire spread to a second tank.

According to Granma, “there was a malfunction in the lightning rod system that could not withstand the force of the electrical discharge.”

Mario Sabines Lorenzo, the governor of Matanzas, said about 800 people had been evacuated.

According to Asbel Leal, director of trade and supply at the Cuban Petroleum Union (Cube), the first reservoir “contained approximately 26,000 cubic meters of domestic crude, or nearly 50% of its maximum capacity” at the time of the disaster. The second tank contained 52,000 cubic meters of fuel oil.

According to him, Cuba has never faced a fire “the size of today”.

Granma said the sediment feeds the Antonio Guitras power plant, the largest in Cuba, but that pumping into the plant has not stopped.

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The fire comes as the island has been facing supply difficulties since May to meet the rising demand for electricity due to the summer heat.

The authorities must make periodic cuts, which can be up to 12 hours a day in certain areas of the country, angering the angry residents who organized about two dozen demonstrations.