Cuba accepts technical assistance from the United States to control fire in Matanzas

The Cuban government said it has accepted “technical guidance” offered by the United States to help the island’s authorities put out a raging fire that threatens to engulf an oil storage facility at the port of Matanzas, in what could be one of the few examples of cooperation between the two countries in recent years.

“We deeply appreciate the condolences and expressions of help from people and organizations in the U.S. regarding the #Matanzas incident, including from the U.S. government, which offered technical advice, a proposal already in the hands of specialists for proper coordination,” Carlos Fernández de Cossío, Cuba’s vice minister of foreign affairs, said on Twitter.

Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel usually goes to Twitter to rail about U.S. sanctions against Cuba and criticize the Biden administration. But the severity of the fire and the firefighters’ unsuccessful attempt to contain the flames so far have moved authorities to accept the offer with a public thank you message.

“We express deep gratitude to the governments of Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile, which have promptly offered material aid in solidarity in the face of this complex situation,” Díaz-Canel said. “We also appreciate the offer of technical advice from the U.S.”

The State Department did not offer details of what was offered to Cuba.

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An agency’s spokesperson said the Biden administration was “closely tracking the situation, including any humanitarian needs that may emerge.”

“The U.S. embargo authorizes U.S. persons to provide disaster relief and response in Cuba,” the spokesperson said.

Previously, the U.S. embassy in Havana had said it was in contact with Cuban authorities and sent condolences to the victims of the fire, which left 77 injured so far.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has become a close ally of Cuba, also sent workers from state oil company Pemex to help extinguish the fire.

The fire started around 7 p.m. Friday, when lightning struck a crude oil storage tank in the unloading area in the port of Matanzas, Cuban authorities said. Despite the efforts of the firefighters to control it, there were at least four explosions in the early hours of Saturday, and the flames spread to a second tank.

State media shared images showing one Cuban Armed Forces helicopter attempting to drop water over the flames.