A massive lightning fire that fed on two oil storage tanks in the Cuban city of Matanzas raged out of control on Saturday, injuring at least 121, according to the country’s health ministry.
Of the injured, 36 were still in hospital on Saturday evening, five of whom are in critical condition, the Ministry of Health said. At least 17 people were missing, according to Cuban state television.
The lightning was reported Friday evening. Officials said it hit a tank and set off a fire that spread to a second.
The office of President Miguel Díaz-Canel said about 1,300 people living near the fire at the Matanzas Supertanker Base have been evacuated, and another 600 workers have been forced to leave.
Five nearby neighborhoods in Matanzas, about 100 miles east of Havana, were actively protected from the effects of the fire, it said.
Additional ambulances have arrived to attend to the injured, the office said.
Cuba’s Ministry of Energy and Mines said on Saturday morning that lightning was the culprit, and the government later released a satellite map showing a bright red cloud of thunderstorms over the province, known as Matanzas.
A plume of black smoke rose over the county on Saturday, and forecasters said it was possible the smoke could reach as far as Key West, Florida.
The US embassy in Cuba said federal law allows a US response, including disaster relief. It said US officials have been in contact with Cuban authorities.
on TwitterDíaz-Canel thanked countries that have offered help.
“We express our deep gratitude to the governments of Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile, who immediately offered material aid in solidarity in the face of this complex situation,” he said.
“We also appreciate the US’s offer of technical advice,” the president added.
The two burning tanks were part of a storage facility with six other tanks, all used as fuel for electricity generation.
Orlando Matos and The Associated Press contributed.