Firefighters tackle deadly fire at key oil facility in Cuba

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HAVANA (AP) — A deadly fire that destroyed at least half of a major oil facility in western Cuba and threatened to worsen the island’s energy crisis was largely brought under control after nearly five days, authorities said on Wednesday.

Flames that recently consumed the fourth tank at the eight-tank facility in Matanzas were nearly smothered, although the third tank continues to burn and is surrounded by smoke, according to an unidentified Cuban firefighter.

“We can’t go in for now,” he told Cubavisión, a state-run television station.

The fire killed at least one person and injured 128 others, with 14 firefighters still reported missing and 20 people hospitalized. The fire also forced officials to evacuate more than 4,900 people and shut down a key thermoelectric power plant after it ran out of water, raising concerns about a new round of power outages in addition to those the government announced for Havana last week would have.

Colonel Daniel Chávez, deputy chief of the Cuban Fire Service, said the fire could continue to burn for the next few days but did not expect it to get any bigger. He said the next step is to cool the area.

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel cautiously celebrated the work of local firefighters and special teams dispatched by Mexico and Venezuela, who used boats, planes and helicopters to fight the blaze, whose toxic smoke could be seen from the capital, Havana.

“(Tuesday) was a day of victory but we can’t get cocky,” he tweeted Wednesday as he warned of a possible change in wind direction. “Danger lurks.”

The fire at the Matanzas Supertanker Base began Friday after lightning struck key infrastructure that operates an oil pipeline that receives Cuban crude oil that powers thermoelectric plants. It also serves as an unloading and transhipment point for imported crude oil, heating oil and diesel.

The government hasn’t provided a damage estimate or said how much it’s lost in total of key fuel supplies. The first tank was 50% full and contained nearly 883,000 cubic feet (25,000 cubic meters) of fuel. The second tank was full.

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

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