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Associated Press

Lightning sets off fire at Cuban oil tank farm, dozens hurt

Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank in the city of Matanzas, causing a fire that led to four explosions which injured nearly 80 people and left 17 firefighters missing

HAVANA (AP) - Lightning struck a crude oil storage tank in the city of Matanzas, causing a spreading fire that led to four explosions which injured nearly 80 people and left 17 firefighters missing, Cuban authorities said Saturday.

Firefighters and other specialists were still trying to quell the blaze at the Matanzas Supertanker Base, which began during a thunderstorm Friday night, the Ministry of Energy and Mines tweeted.

The official Cuban News Agency said the lightning strike set one tank on fire and the blaze later spread to a second tank.

The Facebook page of the provincial government of Matanzas said the number of injured had reached 77, while 17 people were missing. The Presidency of the Republic said the 17 were “firefighters who were in the nearest area trying to prevent the spread.”

The accident comes as Cuba struggles with fuel shortages. There was no immediate word on how much oil had burned or was in danger at the tank farm, which stores oil used to fuel electricity production.

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

Authorities said the Dubrocq neighborhood closest to the fire was evacuated, while Gonzalez added that some people decided to leave the Versailles district, which is a little farther from the tank farm.

There were many ambulances, police and fire engines, he said.

Matanzas, which has about 140,000 inhabitants, is 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Havana, on Matnzas Bay.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel traveled to the area of the fire early Saturday, officials said.

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

“That plume can be close to 150 kilometers long,” Pila wrote on his Twitter account.

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

People watch a huge rising plume of smoke caused by a blaze at the Matanzas Supertanker Base, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, causing a fire that led to four explosions which injured more than 50 people. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A helicopter carrying water flies over the Matanzas Supertanker Base, as firefighters try to quell the blaze which began during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, causing a fire that led to four explosions which injured more than 50 people. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A carriage and bus drive past a plume of smoke caused by a blaze at the Matanzas Supertanker Base, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, causing a fire that led to four explosions which injured more than 50 people. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A huge plume of smoke rises from the Matanzas Supertanker Base, caused by a blaze which began during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, causing a fire that led to four explosions which injured more than 50 people. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A resident and his pets walk past a huge plume of smoke rising from the Matanzas Supertanker Base caused by a blaze which began during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, causing a fire that led to four explosions which injured more than 50 people. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Helicopters hauling water fly over the Matanzas Supertanker Base, as firefighters and specialists work to quell the blaze which began during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, causing a fire that led to four explosions which injured more than 50 people. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A huge plume of smoke rises from the Matanzas Supertanker Base, as firefighters work to quell a blaze which began during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, causing a fire that led to four explosions which injured more than 50 people. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
People watch a huge rising plume of smoke from the Matanzas Supertanker Base, as firefighters try to quell a blaze which began during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, causing a fire that led to four explosions which injured more than 50 people. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A giant plume of smoke rises over the Matanzas Supertanker Base, as firefighters work to quell the blaze which began during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, causing a fire that led to four explosions which injured more than 50 people. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A helicopter dumps water over the Matanzas Supertanker Base, as firefighters try to quell a blaze which began during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, causing a fire that led to four explosions which injured more than 50 people. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)