A fire at a Venezuelan refinery spread to a third fuel tank on Monday, nearly three days after a powerful explosion that killed 41 people and ignited the blaze, the vice-president, Elías Jaua, has reported on Twitter.
Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president, has angrily denied claims that early warning systems at the country’s Amuay oil refinery failed, as locals reported there had been a strong smell of gas before Saturday’s deadly explosion in which two refining tanks blew up. An estimated 150 people were injured and 33 remain in hospital.
Falcon state governor, Stella Lugo, told Union Radio on Monday that the death toll had risen to 48, but later said the correct number was 41 and that some victims’ names had been mistakenly included twice on a list.
More than 200 homes were reported damaged by the shockwave. Some were across the street from the refinery, which is on a peninsula in the Caribbean Sea in western Venezuela.
Puddles of petroleum mixed with water covered roads in the area. The victims from Saturday’s blast included 18 national guard troops. Dozens of people wounded remain in hospital, a national guard general told reporters.
People living close to the refinery have spoken of a dense fog-like cloud descending in the days before the huge explosion, which sent a shockwave tearing through the surrounding area, shattering shops and homes and littering the streets with debris.
“The smell of gas could be normal close to a refinery, especially on a windless day like Friday, but [this] wasn’t,” said Mario Theis, who worked as operations manager in the Amuay complex for more than 30 years. “At the first hint of a gas leak, sirens should go off and all access roads get closed. It didn’t happen.”