Photo: Venezuela Refinery Explosion
Two of the people injured in the explosion at Venezuela’s Amuay refinery over the weekend have died while being treated at Coromoto Hospital in the western city of Maracaibo, raising the death toll from the industrial accident to 41, officials said.
The two victims arrived at the hospital with burns over 100 percent of their bodies, hospital spokesman Jesus Valdes said.
The blast and subsequent blaze at the refinery injured 80 other people, officials said.
The fire at the refinery is still burning, but officials expect that it will be extinguished in the next few hours, Oil and Mining Minister Rafael Ramirez said Monday.
President Hugo Chavez visited the Amuay refinery, which is in northwest Venezuela, on Sunday and said some members of the National Guard security detail were still unaccounted for.
“Very painful, I am full of feelings of pain, I am focusing on the dead, on their families, on the injured and their care, like we’re doing ... on the ones we still don’t have,” Chavez told reporters on arrival in the Paraguana peninsula.
“I was talking with the National Guard general commander about some guards who have still not appeared, we’re searching. That’s my main concern at this time,” the president said.
Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, meanwhile, suspended his campaign in the wake of Saturday’s blast at Venezuela’s largest refinery.
The Amuay refinery is one of three that make up the Paraguana Refinery Complex, or CRP, the largest in this South American country and one of the largest in the world.
The fire at the energy complex is confined to two fuel tanks, which firefighters are trying to cool and covering with foam, Ramirez told VTV.
“That’s a despicable version,” the oil and mining minister said in response to a question about reports that gas had been leaking at the complex for days.
Ramirez also rejected speculation that lack of maintenance was to blame for the accident.
Some $4.8 billion was spent on maintenance at the refinery over the past five years, with 500 stoppages ordered for upkeep, the oil and mining minister said.
A commission is being formed to investigate the source of the gas leak suspected of causing the blast and “to totally clear up the incident,” Ramirez said.
Operations can resume at the refinery as soon as the fire is extinguished, the oil and mining minister said, adding that the accident would not affect domestic or foreign fuel supplies.
The refinery has 680 tanks and only nine were affected by the blast, Ramirez said.
“There are going to be no supply problems of any kind either on the domestic market or with the exports, we have not halted any shipments and we are soon going to extinguish (the fires at) these tanks in the next few hours,” the oil and mining minister said.