MATANZAS, Cuba – Thousands of Cubans turned out on Friday to bid a final farewell to 14 firefighters killed while battling a blaze at a fuel depot this month.
A long line of firefighters, soldiers and ordinary citizens solemnly filed past 14 coffins draped in the Cuban flag at a ceremony in Matanzas, some 100 km (60 miles) east of the capital Havana.
The fire broke out on August 5 when lightning struck a tank containing 26 million liters of fuel at a depot on the outskirts of Matanzas, a town of some 140,000 people.
Early the next morning, a major explosion occurred when a second fuel tank caught fire — killing the firefighters already on site.
It took six more days to bring the fire under control, during which time the 14 firefighters were officially listed as missing.
Four of the depot’s eight fuel tanks were destroyed. Each had a capacity of some 50 million liters (13.2 million gallons).
After missing firefighters’ remains were found, officials said Wednesday the bodies were too charred to allow for DNA identification.
Two other firefighters died in the blaze and 130 people were injured, of whom 18 remain in hospital.
The 14 were honored Friday on the second of two days of national mourning announced by President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who offered his condolences via Twitter Thursday to loved ones of “these brave Cubans.”
The Matanzas depot supplies the Antonio Guiteras thermoelectric plant, the largest in communist Cuba.
The disaster comes at a time when the island — with an outdated energy network and persistent fuel shortages — has faced mounting difficulties in meeting energy demands.
Since May, authorities have imposed energy blackouts of up to 12 hours a day in some regions — sparking protests around the nation of 11 million people.
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