No one killed as fuel storage blast rattles San Juan, forcing evacuations
SAN JUAN - An explosion at a fuel storage facility sent earthquake-force shock waves across Puerto Rico’s capital yesterday and created a tower of inky black smoke that forced airliners to alter flight paths.
No one was reported killed.
The blast shook islanders out of bed across metropolitan San Juan and shattered windows across the bay in colonial Old San Juan, one of many neighborhoods where onlookers gaped at the thick smoke boiling north toward the Atlantic.
The fire involved 15 of the plant’s 40 tanks, several of which were no longer burning last night. Firefighters were spraying the rest with cold water and foam to reduce the risk of further blasts.
The cause of the explosion at Caribbean Petroleum Corp., in the suburb of Bayamon, was unknown.
Governor Luis Fortuno said one person required treatment for smoke inhalation, and two others suffered minor injuries at the Army’s Fort Buchanan, adjacent to the fuel plant, which supplies Gulf gas stations across the island.
Several drivers were also hurt when the explosion shattered glass in their cars, but firefighters said all the plant workers were safe.
Marcial Orlando Felix, the top local official for the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said a team from the mainland would investigate but would have to wait until the fire is out to enter the plant.
The 12:30 a.m. explosion was the equivalent of a 2.8-magnitude earthquake, according to the Puerto Rico Seismic Network. Police and FBI agents were also investigating graffito found in a highway tunnel yesterday after the blast with the message: “Boom, fire, RIP, Gulf.’’
Police Chief Jose Figueroa Sancha said it would take several days to put out the fire.
The Federal Aviation Administration diverted plane traffic because of the smoke.
Authorities evacuated 125 families from the poor neighborhoods near the plant because of concern about contamination from the smoke.