Thursday, May 24, 2018

Fire spreads at Venezuela refinery, 41 dead

PUNTO FIJO, Venezuela — An intense fire at a Venezuelan refinery spread to a third fuel tank on Monday nearly three days after an explosion killed at least 41 people and injured more than 150.

Vice President Elias Jaua said in a message on Twitter that a third tank had just ignited at the Amuay refinery, which has been in flames since Saturday's blast.

Government officials had previously said they had the blaze contained, and the spread to another fuel tank was a setback to their plans to quickly restart the refinery. Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez told reporters the fire was still under control.

Officials have said a gas leak led to the blast, but investigators have yet to determine the precise causes. Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega said at a news conference that 151 people were injured, 33 of whom remain in hospitals.

A 9-year-old girl was missing in the area, Health Minister Eugenia Sader said on television.

Criticisms of the government's response to the gas leak emerged from residents and oil experts. People in neighborhoods next to the refinery said they had no official warning before the explosion hit about 1 a.m. Saturday.

Energy analyst Jorge Pinon said the accounts of the hours leading up the explosion raise concerns.

"The fact that the gas leak went undetected for a number of hours and that there was no evacuation alarm (or) order indicates to me that there is a lack of safety related planning and behaviors throughout the complex, and most important in nearby communities," Pinon said.

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