Mérida, August 29th 2012 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Once fires were completely extinguished yesterday, national government institutions began investigating the cause of the recent explosion in Venezuela’s largest refinery. The government has designated large amounts of compensation to victims’ families, and together with community members is helping to repair damaged housing.
Forty-one people were killed in the explosion which occurred at around 1am on Saturday. It took place in the Amuay refinery, which together with Bajo Grande and Cardon refineries, makes up the Paraguana Refining Centre (CRP), the largest such complex in Venezuela, with a production capacity of 956,000 bpd. The CRP also accounts for 71 of Venezuela’s refining capacity.
Fire extinguished and oil supply guaranteed
A group of 222 PDVSA fire fighters and volunteers worked over the weekend and Monday to put out the fire, successfully putting it out in three of the tanks by Monday night, and in the fourth tank by Tuesday.
Although the operational area of the refinery was not directly affected by Saturday’s explosion, the plant closed and stopped all work until the fires were put out.
Today, fire fighters have been continuing the work of cooling and safeguarding the four affected tanks. CRP manager Jesus Luongo, speaking on national television, said that “climate conditions” such as strong winds had made work difficult and tank 204 re-ignited on Monday night, however fire fighters controlled the flames with foam.
The vice-president of the CRP, Asdrubal Chavez, also informed yesterday that the refinery’s delivery of oil had remained “normal” since Saturday. On Sunday, “four ships from this complex left for various parts of the country and the world, yesterday two more ships departed, and today [Tuesday] there are four ships of diesel and asphalt”. He explained that when the contingency plans were put in place and the Amuay refinery closed down, there was enough petroleum in the inventory for regular distribution.
“If the whole network of refineries were stopped, we’d be able to supply fuel for more than ten days,” he said.
Asdrubal Chavez made these clarifications following disinformation spread by sectors of the opposition that there would be petrol shortages.
Yesterday Chavez assigned Bs 100 million (US$ 23.3 million) to a social found to assist those who were affected by the explosion, including families of those who died and those whose housing was damaged.
Chavez made the announcement during a visit to a hospital which is treating those wounded in the blast.
He said that spouses of victims will receive a pension for life, and their children will receive educational scholarships. He also congratulated the doctors, nurses and technicians who have been treating the wounded, calling them patriots.
“The spirit of patriotism, national unity and the battle for life is being financed,” he assured them.
The fund will be administered by PDVSA and the Falcon state government.
Assistance and repairs for those affected
The approved funding is also going towards a general clean up and to housing and small business repairs. According to volunteers at the site, some 1,200 houses and small businesses were damaged. In some cases the damage is limited to broken window glass or ruined roofs, while in others such as the informal housing built closer to the site, houses have been largely destroyed.
Orlando Arias, who lost the roof of his house, and is already supervising as it is replaced, told the newspaper Ciudad CCS that, “the assistance provided by state institutions arrived quickly. They are doing a census to verify which houses were affected by the explosion”.
Volunteers and workers from PDVSA, the anti-drug institute ONA, the youth organisation of the Francisco de Miranda Front, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), electricity state company Corpoelec, and others, are helping out with the cleanup.
“[Most of] the houses were built over 60 years ago ... the majority of them had asbestos ceilings, which exploded into pieces with the explosion,” said Pedro Vera, one of the volunteers.
Further, the national government has given housing to sixty of the families who lost their houses, the governor of Falcon state, Stella Lugo reported yesterday. Their new housing was built recently by the national government, and is located in a public housing area called Ciudad Federacion (Federation City), in Carirubana municipality in the same state. The houses all have three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dining room, and other living areas, and also include white goods such as fridges and washing machines from the government’s ‘My well-furnished house’ program.
According to Lugo, Falcon state has handed over 10,018 such houses so far, and the ones handed out yesterday had been assigned to other families through the Housing Mission, but those families “decided, as a form of solidarity, to cede their houses to the affected families”. Those families will be assigned housing in the next hand out.
Major General Hugo Carvajal, vice minister of the Integrated System of Crime Investigation, gave details of the investigation underway yesterday.
“The Bolivarian government has organised a multidisciplinary team of the best disaster investigators of the Investigation Division of Disasters of the CICPC (Venezuela’s criminal investigation body) and the Board of the Technical Scientific and Investigation Consultancy of the Attorney General’s office to work out the precise actions that lead to the fire,” he said.
The first phase of the investigation was begun a few days ago, Carvajal said, and that involved identifying those who had died and were injured, taking photos from various angles, and sealing off a perimeter around the area. Investigators also contacted technical personnel at Amuay in order to obtain satellite photos of the explosion site.
Now the team will interview witnesses, and once the cooling of the tanks is completed they will begin the second stage. Security is also being coordinated to protect evidence in the area. The team will identify the starting point of the explosion, analyse data in order to compare the “geometric behaviour” of the damage, heat transfer, and heat and smoke stain patterns.
Once the investigation is complete, a report will be written up and presented to the national executive.
For a selection of images of the emergency response effort, please click here http://venezuelanalysis.com/images/7209