A large explosion at the Amuay oil refinery in Venezuela has killed 26 people and injured a further 80. The blast is thought to have been caused by a gas leak.
The Amuay refinery is the largest in Venezuela and is situated in the northwest Falcon province. Amuay is part of the Paraguana Refinery Complex, and together, the two refineries process around 900,000 barrels of crude a day and 200,000 barrels of gasoline.
The blast, which damaged the plant significantly and also nearby houses, is thought to have been caused by a gas leak. 19 people were killed in the explosion and a further 53 people were injured. Among the dead was a 10-year-old boy.
Venezuela's Energy Minister, Rafael Ramirez said on state TV, "There was a gas leak. A cloud of gas exploded … it was a significant explosion, there is significant damage to infrastructure and houses opposite the refinery."
Secretary of the United Federation of Oil Workers, Ivan Freites, told local reporters that at 12:30 am Venezuelan time (05:30 GMT), there was a report of a propane-butane leak in the plant.
Freites said, “The senior staff at the plant said they had used foam to control the leak and eliminate the risk of a fire," adding that the explosion could have been triggered by a problem with a gas valve, which had led to a pressure buildup.
The blast itself occurred at around 1:07 am local time (6:07 GMT) on Saturday morning and a tremor was felt in nearby communities, damaging buildings and smashing windows. The ensuing blaze has since been extinguished.
Venezuelan state news quotes local official Stella Lugo as saying that the situation is now under control. Lugo said, “There is no risk of another explosion. At the moment we are concentrating our efforts on helping the injured."
"We are deploying our whole fire service team, all our health team, the whole contingency plan on the orders of [President Hugo] Chavez to first of all care for the people affected by this emergency," she added.
Access has been restricted to the refinery and the surrounding areas by local authorities.
It is not yet clear how this will affect Venezuela's oil shipments, as the country is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Update: The number of dead from the explosion has regrettably risen to 26 people, with 80 injured.