Firefighters work at extinguishing flames from fuel storage tanks at Amuay oil refinery in Punto Fijo, in the Peninsula of Paraguana, August 28, 2012.
(Photo : REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)
Venezuelan firefighters continued battling a blaze at the country's largest refinery on Tuesday, struggling to extinguish a third fuel storage tank following a blast that killed nearly 50 people in the nation's deadliest oil industry accident.
Flames began shooting out of the storage tank at the 645,000-barrel-per-day Amuay refinery at around 8:00 a.m. (1230 GMT), less than an hour after Reuters witnesses and state oil company PDVSA said the fire had been completely extinguished.
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On Monday, Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez told Reuters in an exclusive interview that the facility could restart operations on Friday if the blaze is out by Wednesday.
The charred remains of two other fuel tanks, which had been extinguished before dawn, stood half-melted from three days of the blazing inferno.
The explosion at Amuay on Saturday killed 48 people and helped pushed up U.S. fuel prices in markets that were already bullish because of a threat that Tropical Storm Isaac could disrupt refinery operations on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Traders say the impact on fuel markets may continue even after Amuay is up and running again. Tank farm accidents often cause problems with gasoline blending, which means PDVSA may have to boost imports.
Chavez said at the scene on Monday that he was creating a fund worth about $23 million to help pay for clean-up operations and replace homes destroyed by the pre-dawn blast.
It was one of the most deadly oil industry accidents in recent years, nearing the toll of the 1997 fire at India's Visakhapatnam refinery that killed 56 and topping the 2005 blast at BP Plc's Texas City refinery in which 15 people died.