Blast Rocks Venezuela's Largest Refinery, Kills 19

by
Reuters
A large gas explosion shook Venezuela's biggest refinery, the 645,000-barrels-per-day Amuay facility, killing 19 people before dawn on Saturday, officials said.

Fatal Blast At Venezuela's Amuay Refinery

A large gas explosion shook Venezuela's biggest refinery, the 645,000-barrels-per-day Amuay facility, killing 19 people before dawn on Saturday, officials said.

Stella Lugo, the governor of Falcon state, said more than 53 other people had been injured, and that a 10-year-old child was among the dead.

"We are deploying our whole fire service team, all our health team, the whole contingency plan on the orders of (President Hugo) Chavez to first of all care for the people affected by this emergency," Lugo told Venezuelan state TV.

Officials said the blast was caused by a gas leak and that it had damaged nearby homes along with the refinery complex.

Based in the west of the South American OPEC nation, Amuay is part of the Paraguana Refining Center, one of the biggest refinery complexes in the world with an overall capacity of 955,000 bpd.

"A cloud of gas exploded," Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez told state TV. "It was a significant explosion, there is appreciable damage to infrastructure and to houses opposite the refinery."

Emergency workers were at the scene, where smoke and flames could be seen over the facility. Both Ramirez and Lugo said the situation was, however, under control several hours after the explosion at about 1 a.m. local time.

"There's no risk of another explosion," Lugo said.

Amuay is operated by state oil company PDVSA which has struggled with repeated refinery problems in recent years, affecting its production figures and ability to fulfill ambitious expansion plans.

Power faults, accidents and planned stoppages for maintenance have hit deliveries from South America's biggest oil exporter.

Ivan Freites, a union leader at PDVSA, said foam was being used to control the fire.