Matanzas Explosion Unleashes Wave of Solidarity for Cuba

By Alejandra Garcia from Havana

The eyes of the world are upon Cuba after an enormous fire caused by a lightning strike on a crude oil storage tank in the Cuban city of Matanzas killed one firefighter and injuring more than 120 people. At least 16 people are missing while firefighters and specialized personnel are trying to contain the blaze.

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The incident began on Friday night, following a severe thunderstorm in the area of the Matanzas Supertanker Base. From almost every point in the city of Matanzas, the black smoke could be seen contrasting with the light blue of the Caribbean sky.

At around 7pm local time the tranquility was interrupted by a massive explosion. Immediately afterwards, water trucks and ambulances were driving from one side of the area to the other. A little while after, Armed Forces helicopters could be seen carrying water from the bay and dropping it over the affected area.

The Supertanker Base has eight giant silver-colored containers made of steel and aluminum, easily visible from the city entrance. A few hours after the explosion, two of the eight tanks were on fire. Since then, authorities and rescuers focused all their efforts to prevent the blazes from spreading to the rest of the containers.

Just this evening, Cuban firefighters and technicians, with the help of Mexican and Venezuelan experts, have managed to smother the flames in the first tank, while those in the second were gradually subsiding and a third tank was, for the moment, out of danger.

This is good news amid the catastrophe. Still, the families of 16 missing firefighters are waiting for any news about their loved ones, who were the first firefighters to enter the hot zone to quell the flames on Friday night.

This Saturday, rescuers recovered the body of one of them, who was identified as Juan Carlos Santana, 60, a firefighter from the Cienfuegos Fire Department. Authorities are still unable to access the area to search for the rest of the team because of the extreme temperatures.

So far, 122 people received medical attention, 24 required hospitalization, and 98 have already been discharged, according to the Minister of Public Health, Jose Angel Portal Miranda.

Cuba is not alone

A few hours after the accident, the island began to receive support from other governments to overcome this critical situation. The first countries to respond to were Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina, and Chile. The U.S. government followed, offering technical assistance to contain the unstoppable flames, which as of now has not arrived.

The first support flights arrived at Matanzas international airport on Saturday night from Mexico with technical assistance. Mexican authorities also sent throughout the weekend three helicopters and a Boeing 737-700 from their air force. A Venezuelan Conviasa aircraft also arrived in the airport filled with needed equipment.

“Mexico and Venezuela’s assistance proves with facts what President Lopez Obrador said shortly after the news of the accident: friendly countries do not need to ask for help, the assistance is sent directly to them, before they even ask for it,” Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel recalled.

In multiple television appearances from the command post set up in Matanzas to contain the catastrophe, the Cuban leader thanked the willingness of those nations to help the island without demanding anything in return.

“Shortly after the explosion, they were here with their specialized forces, supplies, and technologies for this type of disaster,” he said in statements to the national and Matanzas province press covering the incident.

“This gesture has to do with the willingness to help, but also with the solidarity gestures that Cuba has had over the past years. It has to do with the history between our peoples and governments,” commented the president, who has not been separated for a second from the disaster area and has spoken on several occasions with the families of the victims.

Cuba is Matanzas

Cubans have fought hard battles in recent years: an immovable blockade, the pandemic, medicine and food shortages, blackouts due to fuel shortages and the collapse of the country’s thermoelectric plants, international discredit campaigns, and many other issues.  As of this Friday, life is once again putting the Cuban people to the test and it comes just 3 months since the huge gas explosion at the Saratoga Hotel in Havana killed 50 people.

But we have known how to overcome difficulties with solidarity and empathy. “Today Cuba is Matanzas,” Díaz-Canel proudly assured. Today there are many  news stories showing how the Cuban people come together like that of cab driver Ariel, who placed a sign on the windshield of his green car saying that he would transport for free health personnel and relatives of those injured in the fire.

Other Matanzas citizens decided to host for free those who come to help quell the flames, or journalists who traveled from other provinces to report for Cubans and the world how the island is facing this terrible accident. Meanwhile, restaurant owners opened their doors so that “no affected person has to go to sleep without eating”, and many people are going to medical centers to donate blood.

“We still have days of hard work ahead of us, but the support we are receiving from Cubans themselves and from the rest of the world gives us strength to continue. Cubans will never be alone because they have their leaders and, at the same time, we have them, unconditionally,” Díaz-Canel concluded.

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano – US

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