Havana : Nearly 80 people were injured and 17 firefighters missing as a massive fire set off by a lightning strike at an oil storage facility raged in Matanzas city on Saturday (local time), media reports said.
According to country's Ministry of Energy and Mines, firefighters are still trying to quell the blaze at the Matanzas Supertanker Base, where the fire began during a thunderstorm Friday night, reported CBS News. The government said later that it had asked for help from international experts in "friendly countries" with experience in the oil sector.
Moreover, the official Cuban News Agency said lightning hit one tank, starting a fire, and the blaze later spread to a second tank.
In a bid to contain the fire which engulfed the nearby area, military helicopters flew overhead dropping water on the blaze. Thick plumes of black smoke billowed from the facility and spread westward more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) toward Havana.
A rigorous fire dousing operation is underway as while providing further details of it, Roberto de la Torre, head of fire operations in Matanzas, said firefighters were spraying water on intact tanks trying to keep them cool in hopes of preventing the fire from spreading.
Provincial government's facebook page 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."
Seven of the injured were taken to Calixto Garcia Hospital in Havana, which has a prominent burn unit.
The incident comes as Cuba struggles with fuel shortages. However, as the situation is still evolving, there was no immediate word on how much oil had burned or was in danger at the storage facility, which has eight giant tanks that hold oil used to fuel electricity generating plants.
As per authorities, Dubrocq neighbourhood 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, as per the media outlet.
Many ambulances, police and fire engines were seen in the streets of Matanzas, a city with about 140,000 residents and located on Matnzas Bay.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel travelled to the area of the fire early Saturday, officials said.
Moreover, 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.