The explosion with sky–high flames is the deadliest catastrophe to date for the country's oil industry, which supports much of the country’s economy, according to an AP report
Sheets of orange flames licked the dark early morning skies above Amuay refinery, among the largest facilities in the world.
***Update: 8/26 5 p.m. 39 dead/80 injured***
A 10-year-old boy was one of the 24 killed in the blast, and at least 53 people are injured, according to Falcon state Gov. Stella Lugo. She said firefighters had gained the upper hand on the fire. The refinery facility is on the Paraguana Peninsula in western Venezuela. Massive plumes of smoke formed clouds over the region, according to CNN
Meanwhile, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez claims Venezuela has enough reserves to guarantee continued exports and domestic supply. Ramirez said "we won't have major effects," regarding fuel supplies.
The explosion rocked the behemoth refinery around 1 a.m. after a “gas leak” created a highly flammable cloud that ignited, Ramirez said on television. He added that nearby houses had been damaged by the blast.
"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. "The blast wave was of a significant magnitude."
Oil workers under protection of military have shut down the refinery; however the cause of the blast is still under investigation. According to Ramirez, nine storage tanks were damaged and supplies to the site have been cut off.
Many of the dead are National Guard troops stationed at the refinery, according to Vice President Elias Jaua, who spoke on state television after inspecting the area. He said the authorities were "trying to save the greatest number of lives."
Amuay is one segment of the massive Paraguana Refinery Complex. The refinery maze includes the nearby Cardon refinery. Combined, the two refineries process about 900,000 barrels of crude a day and 200,000 barrels of gasoline. The U.S. imports a major portion of its oil from Venezuela, a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
UPDATE: 3 p.m. - NY Times confirms 26 dead