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17 missing, 121 hurt, and 1 Dead in Fire at Cuban Oil Facility

HAVANA A fire triggered by a lightning strike at an oil storage facility raged uncontrolled in the Cuban city of Matanzas, where four explosions and flames injured 121 people and left 17 firefighters missing. Cuban authorities said a unidentified body have been found late Saturday.

Firefighters along with other specialists were still attempting to quell the blaze at the Matanzas Supertanker Base, where in fact the fire began throughout a thunderstorm Friday night, the Ministry of Energy and Mines tweeted. Authorities said about 800 individuals were evacuated from the Dubrocq neighborhood closest to the fire.

The federal government said it had asked for help from international experts in friendly countries with experience in the oil sector.

Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernndez de Cosso said the U.S. government had offered technical help quell the blaze. On his Twitter account, he said the proposal is in the hands of specialists for the due coordination.

Minutes later, President Miguel Daz-Canel thanked Mexico , Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile for his or her offers of help. A support flight from Mexico arrived Saturday night.

The state Cuban News Agency said lightning hit one tank, starting a fire, and the blaze later spread to another tank. As military helicopters flew overhead dropping water on the blaze, dense column of black smoke billowed from the facility and spread westward a lot more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) toward Havana.

Roberto de la Torre, head of fire operations in Matanzas, said firefighters were spraying water on intact tanks attempting to keep them cool hoping of avoiding the fire from spreading.

Cubas Health Ministry reported that 121 individuals were injured with five of these in critical condition. The Presidency of the Republic said the 17 people missing were firefighters who have been in the nearest area attempting to avoid the spread.

Later Saturday, medical Ministry said in a statement a body have been found and officials were attempting to identify it.

The accident comes as Cuba struggles with fuel shortages. There is no immediate word on what much oil had burned or was in peril at the storage facility, which includes eight giant tanks that hold oil used to fuel electricity generating plants.

I was in the fitness center when I felt the initial explosion. A column of smoke and terrible fire rose through the skies, resident Adiel Gonzalez told The Associated Press by phone. The town includes a strong smell of sulfur.

He said some individuals also made a decision to leave the Versailles district, that is a little farther from the tank farm than Dubrocq.

Many ambulances, police and fire engines were observed in the streets of Matanzas, a city with about 140,000 inhabitants that’s on Matnzas Bay.

Local meteorologist Elier Pila showed satellite images of the region with a dense plume of black smoke moving from the idea of the fire westward and reaching east to Havana.

That plume could be near 150 kilometers long, Pila wrote on his Twitter account.

E mail us at letters@time.com.

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