26 Aug 2012

Death toll rises after refinery explosion

2:40 pm on 26 August 2012

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has ordered an urgent investigation to find the cause of a huge explosion at the country's biggest oil refinery.

The BBC reports the death toll after the blast at the Amuay plant in the north-western state of Falcon on Saturday, has now risen to 39, and more than 80 others were injured.

Mr Chavez declared three days of national mourning.

Venezuelan Vice-President Elias Jaua said 18 of the victims were members of the National Guard stationed at the plant.

Another 15 were civilians, and six bodies remain unidentified, he said.

State TV showed flames and billowing clouds of smoke coming from storage tanks, but Venezuelan authorities say the worst is over and the fire is now under control.

Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez earlier said the blast was sparked by a gas leak, the cause of which remained to be determined.

He said the blaze was in nine storage tanks, mostly holding crude oil and some processed fuels including naphtha.

 

Mr Ramirez said he expected operations at the refinery to resume by Monday.

 

Amuay is part of the Paraguana refining center. It produces 645,000 barrels per day.