Helicopters scrambled to contain a days-long fire that destroyed a third tank at a fuel depot in Cuba on Monday as the search continued for 16 missing firefighters.
According to official data, one 60-year-old firefighter died as a result of the fire, 24 people were hospitalized, five of them are in critical condition.
More than 100 people were injured, most of them with burns, and about 5,000 people were evacuated from the disaster area, authorities said.
The fire on the outskirts of Matanzas, a city of 140,000 people 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Havana, broke out late Friday after lightning struck one of eight tanks at the depot.
On Monday, the governor of the western province of Matanzas said the flames had spread to a third tank that collapsed, like two others earlier over the weekend.
“A third tanker also collapsed after fuel spilled from the second one” as it docked on Sunday, Governor Mario Sabines told state television.
He said the area of the fire was “very large” and containment efforts were “very difficult”.
Planes, firefighters and other specialists and equipment arrived in Cuba from Mexico and Venezuela on Sunday after the island nation asked for help from “friendly countries”.
Sabines said crews were preparing an operation to put out the flames with foam, “but it could take some time.”
– Efforts are “intensifying” –
“The work to fight the fire is intensifying,” the Cuban president said on Twitter, adding that Monday would be a “decisive day” for the effort.
Family members of the missing firefighters met with President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Sunday at a hotel in Matanzas, where they were given access to doctors and psychologists.
“My son was doing his duty, he came forward,” said the distraught mother of one 19-year-old firefighter, who was at the station when the second fuel tank caught fire.
Health officials said they were monitoring air quality and advised people at risk to wear masks in areas affected by the smoke and to avoid exposure to rain.
After the first tank caught fire late on Friday, the fire spread to the second tank by the early hours of Saturday.
The first two tankers collapsed overnight on Sunday, injuring three more people and spilling oil.
According to state oil company Cupet, the first tank contained about 26,000 cubic meters of crude oil, about half its capacity.
The second contained 52,000 cubic meters of fuel oil. It was not immediately clear how full the third tank was, also with a capacity of 52,000 cubic meters.
Firefighters tried to prevent the third container from catching fire by dousing it with water to keep it from cooling, but ultimately to no avail.
The depot, built in the 1980s and upgraded several times, supplies the Antonio Guiteras thermal power plant, the largest in the communist country.
The plant has five docks for receiving ships with a displacement of up to 180,000 tons, according to the official newspaper Granma.
The disaster comes as the island – with an aging power grid and chronic fuel shortages – faces increasing difficulties in meeting its energy needs.
In May, the authorities imposed power cuts of up to 12 hours a day in some regions, which caused protests in the country of 11 million people.