Havana – A fire at a fuel depot in western Cuba sparked by a lightning strike has injured more than 60 people, three of them critically, officials said Saturday.
The official newspaper Granma attributed the fire, which began Friday evening, to an “electric discharge” that struck a tank at the depot outside the city of Matanzas, 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Havana.
The fire spread early Saturday from one fuel tank to a second, sending a huge plume of black smoke into the sky.
The Faustino Perez provincial hospital reported that 67 people had been injured, with 15 in serious or very serious condition.
And the Cuban presidency said 17 others, primarily firefighters, are listed as missing. And some 800 people had been evacuated from the area, according to regional officials.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Prime Minister Manuel Marrero were supervising rescue efforts.
Upon hearing a first explosion, Yuney Hernandez and her family left their home just two kilometers from the depot, the 32-year-old mother told AFP. They returned a few hours later.
But then around 5am Saturday (0900 GMT) they heard more explosions, “like pieces of the tank were falling,” she said.
The journal Granma quoted a senior official of state-owned Cubapetroleo as saying that the fire was due to “a fault in the lightning-rod system, which could not withstand the energy from the electrical discharge.”
The depot supplies the Antonio Guiteras thermoelectric plant, but service to the plant has not stopped, the official said.
The fire occurred at a time when the island — with an outdated energy network and persistent fuel shortages — has faced mounting difficulties in meeting increased energy demands amid severe summer heat.
Since May, the authorities have imposed energy blackouts of up to 12 hours a day in some regions — sparking at least 20 protests across the island’s interior.