Updated at 12.45pm
AN EXPLOSION ROCKED the Amuay refinery in Venezuela early today, killing at least 19 people and injuring dozens, an official said.
A ball of fire rose over the refinery in video posted online by people who were nearby at the time.
Falcon state governor Stella Lugo gave the initial death toll of seven on state television.
“The areas that had to be evacuated were evacuated,” Lugo said, according to the state-run Venezuelan News Agency. “The situation is controlled. Of course there’s still a fire rising very high, but … the specialists tell me there is no risk of another explosion.”
He later said that the death toll had risen to 19 and that the victims include a 10-year-old boy. At least 53 people are injured.
Firefighters and National Guard troops were securing the area at the refinery on the Paraguana Peninsula in western Venezuela, Lugo said.
The blast occurred after 1am when a gas leak created a cloud that ignited, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said. Some nearby houses were damaged by the blast, he said.
“That gas generated a cloud that later exploded and has caused fires in at least two tanks of the refinery and surrounding areas,” Ramirez said on state television. “The blast wave was of a significant magnitude.”
Ramirez said oil workers will determine what caused the gas leak and were inspecting the damage along with troops. He said supplies of fuel had been cut off to the part of the refinery that was still in flames.
Vice President Elias Jaua said on his Twitter account that the military was deployed to the area and that air ambulances were dispatched to ferry the wounded. The defense minister was traveling to the refinery along with Ramirez and other officials, Jaua said.
The Amuay refinery and the adjacent Cardon refinery together process about 900,000 barrels of crude a day and 200,000 barrels of gasoline. It was unclear to what extent the explosion might affect oil shipments from Venezuela, a member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.