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article imageNicaragua struggles to control fire at sole oil refinery

By AFP     Aug 19, 2016 in Environment

Nicaraguan firefighters on Friday were trying to bring under control a huge fire at their country's only oil refinery that has been burning for two days, creating health fears over noxious smoke.

The blaze started Wednesday when one of four big fuel tanks exploded at the Puma Energy facility in the Pacific port of Puerto Sandino, some 70 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of the capital Managua.

A second tank ignited on Thursday and fire crews were working to try to prevent the other two also being consumed.

No casualties have been reported. But the authorities have warned residents in the area to avoid exposure to the dark smoke, which was billowing up to 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) into the air, although mostly toward the ocean.

Shelters have been prepared in the event the smoke changes direction.

Four US experts and a Canadian specialist were in the country to advise officials on how to bring the fire under control, a deputy minister for government, Luis Canas, told state media on Thursday.

Puma Energy, a majority Dutch- and Angolan-owned company with headquarters in Switzerland, bought the refinery in 2011. It had previously been run by the US group Exxon.

Puma Energy issued a statement on Friday saying it was working to "contain the situation," emphasizing that the safety of nearby residents was a priority.

"We don't know the origin of the event that occurred, but an investigation and studies are underway to determine the causes," it said.

Nicaragua's energy regulator INE said unspecified "guarantees" were in place to ensure that the blaze does not result in any domestic fuel shortage.

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