A fire in a crude oil tank in the port of Matanzas in Cuba caused several explosions that injured at least 77 people, local authorities said.
Seventeen firefighters who were trying to prevent the flames from spreading are missing, the official Twitter account of the Cuban presidency said.
Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper Granma said there was a “high probability” that some of those missing were dead. Authorities said rescue teams were unable to reach them due to high temperatures.
The newspaper reported that Energy Minister Livan Arronte Cruz is among those injured.
The fire started on Friday evening when lightning struck a crude oil storage tank in the unloading area of the Port of Matanzas.
Despite firefighters’ efforts to control it, there were at least four explosions in the early hours of Saturday, the provincial government of Matanzas said on its official Twitter account.
Footage shared on social media on Saturday morning shows a huge column of black smoke rolling through the city of Matanzas and stretching 63 miles west to Havana.
According to the latest count reported by Granma, the fire injured at least 77 people. Three are said to be seriously injured and two others are in critical condition. Most of the victims were admitted to the local Faustino Perez Hospital, but seven were referred to hospitals in Havana.
Among those injured with minor burns were three journalists who arrived at the scene of the fire around 4 a.m. when an explosion occurred in a second oil tank containing 52,000 cubic meters of fuel oil.
The oil storage facility is located in an area of Matanzas Bay across from downtown. According to state media, 800 residents of nearby areas have been evacuated so far.
The first tank struck by lightning was half full, with about 25,000 cubic liters of Cuban crude. Local authorities said the lightning rod system failed to prevent the fire.