A Venezuelan oil refinery disaster that killed dozens of people and damaged hundreds of homes has finally been declared over, according to the country’s Oil Minister. Rafael Ramirez said that four days after the massive explosion which sparked the fire, the site is now in a “cooling phase.”
The blast and fire at the state-run Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) Amuay refinery spread to three storage tanks before being brought under control. Firefighters working 12-hours shifts used fire-retardant foam to quell the blaze, although sources at PDVSA said that flames at the last storage tank affected flared up again after officials thought the fire extinguished.
Official estimates of fatalities range from 41 to 48. At least 20 of the dead were National Guards assigned to protect the facility; some of their family members also perished in the blaze. More than 500 modest homes nearly the refinery were severely damaged, forcing residents to evacuate with their belongings.
The tragedy sparked a firestorm of criticism against Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, who is in the midst of a campaign to win re-election. Reacting to accusations of poor maintenance at the state-owned facility, Chávez ordered an investigation into the cause of the explosion.
Ramirez said PDVSA is “in no hurry” to restart the refinery and will allow for at least a one-day cooling-down period. PDVSA will continue to export oil and petroleum products stored at Amuay’s dock and anticipates no disruption to its shipping obligations.