Massive oil-fed fire burns near supertanker port in Matanzas as Mexico and Venezuela send teams to help fight the inferno and Cuba accepts US offer of unspecified "technical advice".

Disaster comes at a time when the island has faced mounting difficulties in meeting increased energy demands amid severe summer heat.
Disaster comes at a time when the island has faced mounting difficulties in meeting increased energy demands amid severe summer heat. (AFP)

Cuba has asked for help to contain a massive fire at a fuel depot that has left at least one person dead, 121 people injured and 17 firefighters missing.

Some 1,900 people have been evacuated from the affected area, according to officials from the western Matanzas province, where lightning struck a fuel tank late on Friday, triggering an explosion.

By the early hours of Saturday, the fire had spread to a second tank, causing another blast and sending a huge plume of black smoke into the sky.

Provincial health official Luis Armando Wong told a press conference on Saturday evening a first body had been recovered at the site.

Five people were critically injured, according to an update by the Cuban presidency on Twitter, with three others in a very serious condition in hospital.

The wounded included Energy Minister Livan Arronte.

The president's office said 17 firefighters were missing, those "who were closest" to the fire in an industrial zone of Matanzas, a city some 100 kilometers east of Havana.

"Cuba requested help and advice from friendly countries with experience in fuel" to help put out the fire, the presidency added in a statement.

Later in the day, President Miguel Diaz-Canel expressed thanks to the governments of Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile, "which have promptly offered material aid."

"We also appreciate the offer of technical advice from the US," he added.

The US embassy in Havana said on Twitter: "We want to make clear that law authorises US entities and organisations to provide disaster relief and response in Cuba."

The United States has had sanctions against the one-party Communist state for six decades.

Dousing blaze 'could take time'

The fire broke out after a bolt of lightning struck a tank on Friday at the depot on the outskirts of Matanzas, a city of 140,000 people.

Helicopters were hard at work fighting the blaze on Saturday, with ambulances, water tanks and cranes at the scene.

Exhausted firefighters were gathered at the plant, waiting to enter to look for their comrades who seemingly could not escape the second explosion.

"We felt the blast, like a shock wave that pushed you back," Laura Martinez, a resident of La Ganadera, near the disaster zone, told the AFP news agency.

Diaz-Canel said extinguishing the blaze "could take time," while Asbel Leal, director of the Cupet state oil company, said the country had never experienced a fire "of the magnitude we have today."

According to Cupet, the first tank contained about 26,000 cubic metres of crude, about half its capacity, when it was struck by lightning.

The second contained 52,000 cubic metres of fuel oil.

The disaster comes at a time when the island –– with an outdated energy network and persistent fuel shortages –– has faced mounting difficulties in meeting increased energy demands amid severe summer heat.

Source: AFP