CARACAS, Venezuela — At least 24 people were killed on Saturday in a giant explosion at Venezuela’s largest oil refinery, according to officials who rushed to the scene on the Paraguaná peninsula.
Rafael Ramírez, president of Pdvsa, the state-owned oil company that runs the refinery complex, said the blast, which occurred at 1:15 a.m., was caused by a gas leak. Workers at the Amuay refinery detected the buildup of a cloud of gas and began to respond, Mr. Ramírez said, but within moments the blowout occurred. “All this happened very fast, and the explosion occurred almost
immediately,” Mr. Ramírez said in televised remarks shortly after 9 a.m.
Television images showed dark smoke billowing from the refinery. Mr. Ramírez said the fire was under control. Photographs and images taken earlier showed a huge mass of flames leaping into the night sky. Venezuela is a major oil supplier to the United States. It was not immediately clear how operations at the refinery would be affected by the explosion. Mr. Ramírez said he expected work there to resume in two days.
Mr. Ramírez said that the explosion damaged a group of storage tanks andcaused severe damage to a National Guard post at the site. Vice President Elías Jaua said that 24 people had been killed, most of them members of the National Guard. More than 60 people were injured and
five remained hospitalized, officials said.
Stella Lugo, the governor of Falcón state, where the refinery is, said that a 10-year-old boy was among the dead. Many homes in the area were evacuated. He said that there were sufficient petroleum reserves in the country to supply the internal market, although he did not say for how long.
Mr. Ramírez said Pdvsa would investigate the cause of the gas leak that led to the explosion. The Amuay facility is part of the Paraguaná refinery complex, one of the largest in the world. The complex can process about 900,000 barrels of crude oil a day. Pdvsa has been plagued by accidents and oil spills in recent years, which critics say are the result of poor management.
In 2010 there was a large fire at a Pdvsa fuel terminal on the Caribbean island of Bonaire. The same year, a fire on a dock at Paraguaná interrupted fuel shipments. Also in 2010, a natural gas exploration rig, the Aban Pearl, sank in the Caribbean.
José Bodas, an oil union leader, said that the company had failed to invest in maintenance.
“This has as a consequence the increase in accidents and tragic deaths like what we are seeing today,” Mr. Bodas said in a telephone call to Globovision, a television channel associated with the political opposition to President Hugo Chávez.
Published: August 25, 2012
New York Times
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