Death toll from Venezuela refinery explosion rises to 39

26 August 2012 19:46  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--The death toll from Saturday’s explosion at Venezuela’s Amuay refinery rose to 39 while fires continued at parts of the site, according to company and news media reports on Sunday.

The fire, which forced the shutdown of the 645,000 bbl/day refinery, was confined to two tanks out of nine that were originally affected, according to a statement on the website of state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA).

The number of known deaths from the blast had risen to 39, including 18 members of the Venezuela national guard, 15 civilians and six others, according to PDVSA. The explosion injured at least 86, according to news media reports.

PDVSA said at least nine remained hospitalised. The fire damaged some 209 homes in the surrounding area, the producer said.

“The firemen continue fighting the fire, just as they did it during all the night, despite that the direction and velocity of the wind [that] complicate the works …”, PDVSA said.

PDVSA head Rafael Ramirez said the fire was located in the southern part of the refinery and production units were “in complete normality”.  The producer had 10 days of inventory for its internal market, he said.

The early Saturday explosion was triggered by a gas leak in a storage depot that created a cloud and ignited, PDVSA said. The resulting fire affected nine storage tanks holding mostly crude oil and some processed fuels including naphtha.

The government has launched a probe into the causes of the blast and was expected to send an team of experts to the site.

PDVSA’s maintenance of its refining system has come under criticism.

The Amuay refinery was temporarily shut down in July after a leak was detected in the main water intake to the cooling system.

The Amuay refinery also underwent two months of maintenance earlier this year.

The Amuay, Bajo Grande and Cardon refineries form part of the Paraguana Refining Complex, one of the largest in the world.

The potential impact of the blast on the US gasoline market was not yet known. Much of the gasoline produced by the Amuay refinery is exported to the US, according to news media reports.

Venezuela-owned Citgo Petroleum refines, transports and markets fuel and lubricants in the US.

Additional reporting by Simon Robinson

By: Brian Ford
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