Lightning sets fire to Cuban oil park, injuring dozens

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HAVANA — Lightning struck a crude oil storage tank in the city of Matanzas, sparking a fire that caused four explosions that injured more than 40 people, Cuban authorities said Saturday.

Firefighters and other specialists were still trying to put out the blaze at the supertanker base in Matanzas, which started during a thunderstorm Friday night, the Energy and Mines Ministry tweeted.

Cuba’s official news agency said lightning set one tank on fire and the fire then spread to a second tank.

The crash comes as Cuba grapples with fuel shortages. There was no immediate word on how much oil had burned or was at risk at the tank farm, which stores oil used to fuel power generation.

The Faustino Pérez hospital said it was treating 49 people, two of them seriously injured, the official portal cubadebate reported.

“I was in the gymnasium when I felt the first explosion. A column of smoke and a terrible fire rose into the skies,” Adiel Gonzalez told The Associated Press by phone. “The city has a strong smell of sulphur.”

Authorities said the Dubrocq neighborhood closest to the fire had been evacuated, while Gonzalez added that some people had decided to leave the Versailles neighborhood, which is a little further from the tankyard.

There were lots of ambulances, police and fire engines, he said.

Matanzas, which has a population of around 140,000, is 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Havana on Matnzas Bay.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel visited the scene of the fire early Saturday, officials said.

Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP

Robert M. Larson