China to help Cuba after fuel tank explosion
Crews making progress against fire at main oil storage facility
Published: Aug 08, 2022 11:04 PM
Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, sent a message of condolence on Monday to Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel over explosions at a fuel storage facility in Cuba.

In his message to Diaz-Canel, also first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee, Xi said he was shocked to learn about the fuel farm explosions in Matanzas province in Cuba, which caused serious casualties and property losses.

Xi noted that on behalf of the Chinese government and people and in his own name, he expressed deep condolences for those killed in the explosions and sincere sympathy to the ­bereaved families and the injured, adding that China is ready to provide assistance to Cuba.

A lightning strike on Friday ignited one of eight storage tanks at the Matanzas super tanker port 60 miles east of ­Havana. A second tank caught fire on Saturday, catching firefighters and others at the scene by surprise and has left more than 100 people injured. Sixteen people were missing.

On Monday, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a regular media briefing that "China and Cuba are good friends, good comrades and good brothers. China expresses deep condolences to the victims of the accident and condolences to the bereaved families and the injured. The Red Cross Society of China has decided to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to the Cuban Red Cross Society. China is willing to continue to provide assistance to Cuba."

Cuba appeared to make progress on Sunday, bringing under control a fire at its main oil storage facility, drawing on help from Mexico and Venezuela to fight the raging flames.

Susely Morfa Gonzalez, head of the Communist Party of Cuba in Matanzas, told local reporters "there are no flames at this time, only white smoke" coming from the first tank hit by lightning.

She said a second tank was still burning, sending up a huge column of black smoke, while a third, which on Saturday night officials feared would explode "is being cooled with water at intervals, in order to maintain an adequate temperature that prevents combustion."

A secondary fire feeding off oil leaking from the area was also extinguished. No oil had contaminated the Matanzas Bay, officials said.

The second explosion on Saturday injured more than 100 people, many first responders, and 24 remain hospitalized, five of them in critical condition.

"We are facing a fire of such magnitude that it is very difficult to control in Cuba, where there are not all the means that are required," Diaz-Canel said.

On Sunday, 82 Mexican and 35 Venezuelan personnel experienced in combating fuel blazes joined the effort, bringing four planeloads of fire-fighting chemicals.

"The help is important, I would say that it is vital and it is going to be decisive," ­Diaz-Canel said. Cuba had been using water and helicopters to battle the flames.