CARACAS, Venezuela — Authorities say a massive gas explosion at Venezuela’s largest oil refinery has killed at least 19 people and injured more than 50 others in the deadliest disaster in memory for the country.
Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez said the blast, which took place at the refining facility in the town of Amuay on the Paraguana Peninsula in northwestern Venezuela, was sparked by a gas leak, the cause of which remains to be determined.
“At about 1:05 a.m. there was a large explosion that people thought was an earthquake,” Ramirez said. “There’s still a lot of panic in the population and people are scared. The area has been evacuated and I’m told the situation is controlled and there isn’t a risk of another explosion.”
The National Guard is helping to inspect the damaged areas and transport the injured to hospitals, while 100 workers from PDVSA, as the state oil company is known, are inside the refinery to control the situation, Ramirez said.
Before the blast, the Amuay refinery, which is the country’s largest was able to process about 645,000 barrels of crude a day.
Bloomberg notes that Venezuela, one of the 12 members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and South America’s biggest crude producer, averaged output of 2.7 million barrels of oil a day last year.
Its main export markets are the U.S. and China.
Live footage of the Amuay oil refinery explosion can be seen in the following video from Youtube user andrzejroso: