Cuba releases identities of victims who died in fire in oil-storage depot in Matanzas

·3 min read

Cuban state media released the identities of the 14 people who died in a fire at an oil storage facility in the port of Matanzas early this month and whose remains experts said were “impossible” to identify.

The remains of the 14 victims, retrieved from the site several days after the fire started on Aug. 5, were to be buried Friday afternoon after an hours-long memorial in the city of Matanzas.

As the Miami Herald reported, among the deceased are four young men in the compulsory military service: Leo Alejandro Doval Pérez de Prado, Michel Rodríguez Román, Adriano Rodríguez Gutiérrez and Fabián Naranjo Nuñez.

The list includes three professional firefighters with the Ministry of the Interior’s Cuban Fire Brigade: first lieutenant Andy Mitchel Ramos Sotolongo, captain Areskys Quintero Orta, and first petty officer Diosdel Nazco Vargas.

Cuban authorities published the names of another seven victims but did not say where they worked. They are Luis Ángel Álvarez Leyva, Luis Raúl Aguilar Zamora, Osley Marante Guerra, Osmani Blasco Sosa, Pablo Ángel López Martell, Raciel Alonso Martínez Naranjo and Rolando Oviedo Sosa.

A 2018 photo of Leo Alejandro Doval Pérez de Prado, who died while combating a fire at the port of Matanzas.
A 2018 photo of Leo Alejandro Doval Pérez de Prado, who died while combating a fire at the port of Matanzas.

State media did not provide other identification details such as victims’ ages amid questioning by relatives of the dead about why inexperienced recruits were sent to combat the dangerous fire.

In an interview for the state television, another young recruit in the compulsory military service with the Matanzas fire brigade said he was also on the front lines.

“It was a difficult moment in life, a moment I don’t want to remember,” Victor Manuel Ribot Valdés said, avoiding looking at the camera. “I was there supporting my teammates and trying to extinguish the fire; these are moments I don’t want to remember.”

A member of his team, 24-year-old firefighter Elier Correa Aguilar, was rescued alive after one of the oil tanks collapsed in the early morning hours of Saturday, Aug. 6. But he did not survive the burns. The 14 victims are believed to have died at that time as well, according to the accounts of the survivors.

The Cuban government also reported the death of 60-year-old firefighter Juan Carlos Santana Garrido, but it has not said how he died.

Alberto Ruiz Martínez, the head of the Santa Cruz fire brigade, which rushed to the nearby city of Matanzas after the fire started, said his team members were trying to cool down the two tanks burning when one of them collapsed. He said they all knew the escape route, but one didn’t make it, the young recruit Michel Rodríguez Román.

Authorities have yet to release an official version of how the events unfolded. They have said the fire started on Friday, Aug. 5, at night, after lightning hit one of the oil storage tanks at the supertanker base. In total, 16 people died and 146 were injured. The facility was severely damaged and lost half of its storage capacity.

On Friday, 14 funeral urns covered with a Cuban flag were on display during a memorial attended by several military officers, firefighters, government officials and Matanzas residents in the local firefighting museum.

But family members didn’t know which urns contained the remains of their loved ones.

Cuban forensic experts told the victims’ relatives that although the search teams found 14 different sets of human bone fragments, they could not put a name on any of them.

In a news conference Wednesday evening, Dr. Jorge González Pérez, the head of Cuba’s Association of Forensic Medicine, said the remains were so badly damaged by the high temperatures that it was “impossible” to identify them.