Extensive efforts are underway in Cuba to control a major fire that broke out at an oil storage facility in the city of Matanzas last week. Around 7pm local time on August 5, a lightning strike set off a blaze in crude oil storage tank 52 at the Matanzas Supertanker Base. As of the morning of August 8, three out of the eight tanks at the site had collapsed.
Containment operations have been ongoing for over three days, with critical on-ground assistance and aid provided by Mexico and Venezuela.
Presidente @DiazCanelB intercambia con los jefes de las delegaciones de #México y #Venezuela que en las últimas horas arribaron a #Cuba para contribuir a sofocar el siniestro en la Base de Súpertanqueros de #Matanzas, a quienes agradeció la solidaridad inmediata. pic.twitter.com/625S5eLwXc
— Presidencia Cuba 🇨🇺 (@PresidenciaCuba) August 7, 2022
Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health reported on the morning of August 8 that 125 people had been injured in the fire, including 24 people who remained hospitalized. 17 people were being monitored, five were deemed to be in a “critical” condition and two in a “serious” condition. One death has been confirmed at the Supertanker Base so far– that of a 60-year old firefighter, Juan Carlos Santana Garrido, from the Special Fire Protection Command of the Cienfuegos Refinery. 16 firefighters remained missing as of August 7.
Declaring that “Cuba is Matanzas”, President Miguel Díaz-Canel and his government have been directly involved in addressing the crisis in the port city. The socialist leader also met with the families of the missing persons at the Velasco Hotel as well as injured people being treated at the Commandante Faustino Pérez provincial hospital on August 7.
Over 4,000 people living in the vicinity of Matanzas’ industrial area, including around 800 residents from the neighborhood of Dubrocq which is located closest to the fire, have been evacuated. Serious concerns have also been raised about the environmental and health impacts of the smoke arising from the fire which has continued to expand on the north coast and towards the western part of Cuba, reaching areas located 100 kilometers away.
— Cubadebate (@cubadebatecu) August 8, 2022
The Director of Public Health of Matanzas stated on Monday morning that there had been intensive monitoring since the beginning of the fire, and that so far no increase in respiratory or other diseases associated with toxic elements had been observed in the western part of the country. The environmental ministry (CITMA) has confirmed that the fire had caused the emission of polluting substances, however, as of August 7, it did not pose danger. The health and environment ministries continue to observe the situation.
Emergency response efforts continue
According to Cuba’s state-owned oil company Cupet, storage tank 52 contained around 26,000 cubic meters of crude oil, 50% of its overall capacity, when the fire first broke out. By the morning of August 6, four new explosions had been reported in a second of the eight tanks at the site. At 4PM local time on August 7, the president of the Provincial Defense Council of Matanzas confirmed that the blaze in the first tank had been successfully extinguished.
However, the fire in the second tank, containing around 50,000 cubic meters of oil, continued to burn, with a major explosion reported around 11pm on Sunday night. It was confirmed that the second fuel tank had collapsed, after the structure had been on fire for nearly 40 hours. The Faustino Perez hospital reported three minor injuries from the incident.
In the early hours of August 8, the Matanzas governor Mario Sabines Lorenzo confirmed that the explosion had been much stronger than the one that had occurred on August 6, and had caused oil to spill and spread to surrounding areas.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Energy and Mines stated that the situation at the Matanzas Supertanker Base was “very complex” as the site could not be accessed and explosions had continued to occur. However, the Ministry announced that the 225 megawatt Antonio Guiteras Thermoelectric Plant, the largest in Cuba, remained online at 219 megawatt.
Experts have also been working to extract the fuel from the third tank through the use of trucks and a ship that was docked near the area on August 7.
Response teams in Matanzas continued to try to contain the fire in coordination with experts from Mexico and Venezuela early on Monday, and a 5000GPM Dominator Pump, provided by Caracas, was dispatched to the site at 4AM to disperse chemical agents to dissipate the fire.
Sale armada para el lugar del siniestro, la bomba Dominator de 5000GPM, aportada por Venezuela, para bombear el agente químico que disipará el fuego. pic.twitter.com/NdeCAuPJ4v
— Cubadebate (@cubadebatecu) August 8, 2022
However, at around 9:30 AM on Monday, Governor Lorenzo announced that the third tank had collapsed, after its deck had been compromised by the fuel spillage from the second tank. He added that visibility remained low due to the smoke, however, Air Force helicopters were continuing to pour water to prevent the fire from spreading and a large hydraulic pump and brigades carrying foam had been positioned.
Experts from Mexico and Venezuela have continued to assist and participate in firefighting operations in Matanzas. The first plane bringing aid from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela landed at Cuba’s Juan Gualberto Gómez International Airport on Saturday night. On board were 35 specialist firefighters who were experienced in highly-complex operations and technical experts from the state-owned oil company, PDVSA. The Venezuelan government also dispatched 20 tons of supplies including foam and chemical powders to be used to extinguish the fire.
2/2 Además de la misión de 35 bomberos especializados en operaciones de alta complejidad, hemos enviado 20 toneladas de insumos (espuma) y polvos químicos para atender esta contingencia. TODO nuestro apoyo y nuestra solidaridad a la CUBA REVOLUCIONARIA!! VIVA CUBA🇨🇺 VENCEREMOS!! pic.twitter.com/69MliG8obR
— Tareck El Aissami (@TareckPSUV) August 7, 2022
Earlier on August 6, socialist president Nicolás Maduro reiterated Venezuela’s solidarity with Cuba and the people of Matanzas– “Receive the Bolivarian hug, you are not alone!”
“In any circumstance, regardless of the size of the adversity, the sons and daughters of [Hugo] Chavez will always be at the side of Cuba, of its Revolution, of its heroic history”, declared Tareck El Aissami, Venezuela’s Minister of Petroleum as he stood with the firefighters outside the Conviasa airplane bound for Cuba.
En cualquier circunstancia, del tamaño que fuese la adversidad, los hijos e hijas de CHÁVEZ, estaremos siempre al lado de CUBA, de su Revolución, de su historia heroica. VIVA FIDEL !! Adelante querido Presidente @DiazCanelB, nosotros VENCEREMOS!! pic.twitter.com/vr6l21JcVD
— Tareck El Aissami (@TareckPSUV) August 7, 2022
A few hours prior, the first of three assistance planes from Mexico had arrived in Cuba, carrying 60 members of the military and 16 technicians and specialists from the state-owned petroleum company PEMEX. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) had confirmed that personnel from PEMEX, the Secretariat of the Navy (Semar) and the Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena) would be traveling to Cuba, during his tour of the state of Colima on Saturday.
The Cuban embassy in Mexico expressed its gratitude to the government, stating “In times of need, the true ties of friendship and solidarity between our peoples are reaffirmed.”
🇲🇽🇨🇺 Arriba al aeropuerto Internacional Juan Gualberto Gómez de Varadero el Boeing 737-700, con ayuda solidaria del ejército y la fuerza aérea mexicanos a Cuba para el enfrentamiento al incendio que desde ayer se desarrolla en la zona industrial de Matanzas
— Cubadebate (@cubadebatecu) August 7, 2022
The Cuban News Agency (ACN) reported on Sunday that a second plane had arrived from Venezuela, bringing additional experts, 14 tons of foam, and five tons of chemical products to assist ongoing efforts. A fifth plane from Mexico carrying humanitarian cargo also landed on Sunday Cuba’s Minister of Transportation, Eduardo Rodríguez Dávila, also told reporters that Mexican Air Force ships would continue to operate throughout the night to increase the availability of foam barrels in Matanzas.
Cuba has also continued to receive messages of solidarity from countries including Bolivia, Nicaragua, Chile, Argentina, China, Guyana, Barbados, Iran, Russia, and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Ghana has also provided aid consisting of 23 packages of gloves, syringes, and other medical supplies.
Expresamos profunda gratitud a los gobiernos de México, Venezuela, Rusia, Nicaragua, Argentina y Chile, que con prontitud han ofrecido ayuda material solidaria ante esta compleja situación. También agradecemos ofrecimiento de asesoría técnica por parte de EEUU. #FuerzaMatanzas
— Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez (@DiazCanelB) August 6, 2022
Una vez más, ante situaciones de dolor y angustia, nuestros compatriotas residentes en el exterior envían mensajes de apoyo y reiteran disposición a ayudar en todo lo necesario
Reconfortan tantas muestras de amor y solidaridad
— Bruno Rodríguez P (@BrunoRguezP) August 7, 2022
End the blockade!
In response to the emergency, the United States of America has offered “technical support”. Cuba’s Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossío stated that the proposal was in the hands of specialists for the due coordination. Meanwhile, the US embassy in Havana also declared that “US law authorizes US entities and organizations to provide disaster relief and response in Cuba”.
Washington has continued to impose an illegal and cruel blockade on Cuba for the past 60 years. In this context, any offerings of assistance are rendered effectively meaningless till the time the US continues its destabilization agenda against Havana, undermining its sovereignty, and pushing unilateral measures that harm the lives of the Cuban people.
The fire in Matanzas could potentially have an effect on fuel supply to the rest of the country, which could impact electricity supply. US sanctions have already made it difficult to purchase fuel and replacement parts to repair existing power plants.
As such, alongside their efforts to raise funds to secure medical supplies and other resources for the people of Matanzas, groups including CODEPINK, The People’s Forum, and Puentes de Amor (Bridges of Love) have also renewed their calls for the total lifting of the blockade on Cuba.
DONATE to help our comrades in Cuba
A huge fire has left people missing, dozens injured & hundreds evacuated
This will impact their energy supply & health facilities which already suffer under the US Blockade
— The People's Forum (@PeoplesForumNYC) August 7, 2022
“Unfortunately, US sanctions on Cuba are the worst of fires!”, read a statement. “Many organizations cannot afford the costs of expensive lawyers and the long cumbersome processes required in order to provide urgent assistance to Cuba. Also, Cuba’s inclusion in the State Sponsor of Terrorism List means that banks, in both the United States and abroad, are reluctant to process humanitarian donations.”
While the US has claimed that humanitarian aid and trade is exempt from sanctions, the actual process of providing such assistance, as witnessed in other cases, has been heavily restricted by factors including overcompliance by third parties (banks, etc.)
The call to lift sanctions has also been echoed by other groups, including the Communist Party of France (PCF) which stated, “the human toll, the material and ecological damage of the fire” obliged the international community for the “immediate and definitive lifting of the illegal sanctions of the USA”.
🚩Agradecemos solidaridad del Partido Comunista Francés🇫🇷
Nous remercions @PCF pour le soutien dans cette situation très douloureuse pour Cuba. Merci pour votre solidarité et l'appel à la levée des sanctions américaines contre notre pays@PartidoPCC @CubaMINREX @EmbaCubaFrancia https://t.co/KSbfF7oJag
— Ambassade de Cuba en France (@EmbaCubaFrancia) August 8, 2022
The single most helpful and genuine action the US government could take to help Cuba following the tragedy in Matanzas would be to end its blockade and allow humanitarian aid and donations to be made. https://t.co/QLVUbPUsJz
— Cuba Solidarity (@CubaSolidarity) August 7, 2022