A column of smoke rises after an explosion at Amuy oil refinery in Punto Fijo, in the Peninsula of Paraguana, August 25, 2012. (Photo : REUTERS/Carlos Velasco)
A huge blast rocked Venezuela's largest oil refinery Saturday morning, killing 24 people and injuring more than 80 others, Reuters reported.
Officials said a 10-year-old child was among those killed in the OPEC nation's worst industrial accident. The deadly explosion at the Amuay refinery was caused by a gas leak, officials stated.
Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua told local reporters, "Unfortunately, 24 people have died, the majority of them members of our National Guard. Four people are in hospital right now, two were transferred to Zulia state and 50 people, thank God, were sent home after treatment because their injuries were not serious."
According to Reuters, Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez told reporters that Amuay, which is part of the Paraguana Refining Center, is expected to resume its 645,000-barrels-per-day (bpd) production within two days. Ramirez added that the initial blaze had been 80 percent contained overnight by crew members.
Reuters also reported that Falcon state governor Stella Lugo told state TV reporters, "We are deploying our whole fire service team, all our health team, the whole contingency plan on the orders of Comandante Chavez to first of all care for the people affected by this emergency."
The fatal explosion, which happened at around 1 a.m. local time, is one of a series of accidents and unplanned stoppages to affect state oil company PDVSA in the past 10 years. Critics have placed blame on President Hugo Chavez and his government for mismanaging the plant, Reuters reported.
Chavez is up for re-election on October 7 against opposition Henrique Caprilles. The latest polls from April show Chavez, who has been battling cancer for the past few months, ahead by 19 points.
Chavez's absence from the public eye throughout his cancer treatment has provided the opposition its best chance for election since he came to office in 1998, Reuters said.