CARACAS, Venezuela — A huge explosion rocked Venezuela's biggest oil refinery and unleashed a ferocious fire on Saturday, killing at least 26 people and injuring more than 80 others in one of the deadliest disasters in memory for the country's key oil industry.
At least 86 people were injured, nine of them seriously, Health Minister Eugenia Sader said at a hospital where the wounded were taken. She said 77 people suffered light injuries and were released.
Officials said those killed included a 10-year-old boy, and that 17 of the 26 victims were National Guard troops stationed at a post next to the refinery.
President Hugo Chavez declared three days of mourning in the country and said he had ordered a "deep investigation" to determine the cause of the explosion.
Officials said firefighters had controlled the flames at the refinery on the Paraguana Peninsula, where clouds of dark smoke still were billowing in the afternoon.
The blast occurred about 1:15 a.m. when a gas leak created a cloud that ignited, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said. He said an adjacent National Guard post was severely damaged by the blast, along with nearby homes.
Amuay is part of the Paraguana Refinery Complex, which also includes the adjacent Cardon refinery. Together, the two refineries process about 900,000 barrels of crude per day and 200,000 barrels of gasoline. Venezuela is a major supplier of oil to the United States and a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Ramirez said the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA should be able to "restart operations in a maximum of two days."
"We want to tell the country that we have sufficient inventories of fuel. We have 10 days of inventory of fuel," Ramirez said.