An explosion and huge fire ripped through an oil storage and refinery site outside Puerto Rico’s capital San Juan Friday, forcing the evacuation of around 350 people from a nearby neighborhood, officials said.
The blast and blaze at the Caribbean Petroleum Corp facility, a major supplier of gasoline and other oil products in the U.S. Caribbean island territory, sent thick clouds of black smoke billowing up over San Juan Bay.
Governor Luis Fortuno ordered the closure of all schools in the San Juan metropolitan area, while the U.S. Coast Guard shut down San Juan Bay. Two people were reported hurt when the explosion rocked the surrounding area early Friday, shattering windows in some buildings.
The fire destroyed 11 of the oil facility’s 40 storage tanks, which contained products such as jet fuel, bunker fuel and gasoline. Firefighters were damping down the remaining tanks to stop the fire from spreading.
“It’s impossible to say what happened right now. We are focused on containing the fire and ensuring everyone’s safety,” Fortuno said.
The Caribbean Petroleum Corp (CPC) facility also included a 48,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery, but this was not in operation, according to the CPC website. There were no immediate details on the extent of damage from the fire.
CPC has under contract more than 200 service stations in Puerto Rico to market gasoline and diesel under the Gulf brand name.
Residents jammed island gas stations over fears that a gasoline shortage might result, but Fortuno said the island had a week’s supply.
After the explosion, the fire and smoke could be seen for miles around and smoke at one point partially blocked a major expressway leading into San Juan, as well as affecting other roads.
Local FBI agents said they would be assisting authorities in investigating the cause of the explosion.
(Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
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