By KEJAL VYAS
CARACAS -- Firefighters were able to mostly put out flames
consuming three storage tanks at Venezuelas largest oil
refinery on Tuesday morning as
efforts to control one of the country's deadliest industry
accidents entered the fourth day.
Officials, including Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez, said
through various state media outlets that the blaze at the
640,000 bpd Amuay facility was completely extinguished.
Government-run television VTV and state oil company
Petroleos de Venezuela, or PdVSA, both reported that all three
of the affected tanks had been cleared.
But a live video feed broadcast by VTV to display relief
efforts at the site showed flames growing again in at least one
of the tanks and clouds of black smoke intensifying. The video
feed was cut off shortly after.
Volunteer firefighters on the ground said that the fire was
under near-total control but that the tanks were
still smoldering and could flare up.
An early Saturday explosion, believed to have been caused by
a gas leak, killed 48 people and severely damaged the houses
surrounding the refinery.
Officials had said the blaze was contained to two tanks
after the initial blast but on Monday said a third unit had
Mr. Ramirez said on state radio Tuesday that Amuay could
resume operations in two days.
The biggest problem we had at the refinery has been
resolved, Mr. Ramirez said. He added that a team of
experts will inspect the facility to ensure there wasn't
any kind of leaks or spills.
Officials haven't given an assessment of damage to the site
but have ensured that domestic fuel supplies wouldn't be
The incident has raised questions over management of the
nationalized oil sector under President Hugo Chavez.
Critics for years have charged the government is making
insufficient investments into maintenance as significant portions
of oil revenue are siphoned off to finance social programs
spearheaded by Mr. Chavez.
Many analysts have raised doubts over whether the government
will be able to restart operations at the facility as quickly
as officials have indicated and if the plant will return to
While the Amuay refinery has a capacity to process
640,000 bpd of crude, it had been working well below that rate
for some time.
Mr. Ramirez said earlier this year that the Paraguana Refining Complex, which includes
Amuay, had been working at 79% capacity. Union officials have
said the facility was working even well below that level.
Dow Jones Newswires