(Bloomberg) -- Cuba struggled for a third day Sunday to contain a fire at a sprawling fuel depot on the northern coast that has injured hundreds, killed at least one person and cast a shadow over the island’s already struggling economy.
The fire at the Matanzas industrial complex that began Friday night after a lightning strike has left at least 122 injured, 17 missing and over 4,000 evacuees, the presidency and state-run media reported. On Sunday, Health Minister Jose Angel Portal said a body recovered the previous day belonged to a Cienfuegos firefighter.
The fire has affected two storage tanks, one containing 26,000 cubic meters of petroleum and another containing some 50,000 cubic meters of fuel oil, according to the provincial government of Matanzas. Nestor Perez, director at state-run oil company Union Cuba-Petroleo, known as Cupet, said as of 2:00 am Sunday 520 cubic meters of fuel oil had been extracted from one of the tanks and that they were expecting the arrival of a ship to continue the extraction.
Specialized firefighting crews from Mexico and Venezuela are on the ground trying to tame the blaze and keep it from spreading to nearby tanks and installations.
Environment Minister Elba Perez said Sunday the fire had caused the emission of polluting substances. A group of experts is monitoring the cloud, which doesn’t pose danger so far, she said, according to the Cuban News Agency, known as ACN. Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel ordered that all measures to mitigate the polluting effects of the fire and protect the population be taken, ACN said.
State-run Prensa Latina reported that the fire did not pose an immediate threat to the operation of the nearby Antonio Guiteras 225 MW power plant, one of the country’s largest.
Read More: Fire at Cuban Fuel Depot Rages, Leaving at Least 77 Injured
“This morning was, once again, difficult,” the Cuban presidency wrote on Twitter early Sunday. “Firefighters continue fighting the intense fire as help comes from friendly countries. Today will be a pivotal day in our fight for life.”
Even before the fire, Cuba was struggling to keep the lights on amid power plant breakdowns and fuel shortages -- rolling blackouts have sparked rare protests. On Sunday, the Union of Electrical workers said the island would not be able to meet demand and requested public institutions implement energy-saving measures.
The fire comes as Cuba’s annual inflation hit 29% in June, largely driven by the devaluing peso and fuel and import costs. Cuba’s economy grew 1.3% in 2021 after two years of record declines.
(Updates with details throughout.)
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