Puerto Rico Oil Explosion Not a Crime, FBI Says

The massive explosion and fire at the Caribbean Petroleum Corp. storage facility outside San Juan, Puerto Rico last month was not an act of sabotage or a crime. According to the FBI, a fuel leak sparked the inferno.

The Caribbean Petroleum Corp. explosion occurred around 12:30 a.m. on October 23 at the company’s gasoline warehouse and distribution center in Catano, just outside of San Juan. According to the Puerto Rico Seismic Network, the blast produced a shock wave equivalent to a 2.8 magnitude earthquake. The explosion was so strong that it tore up a nearby highway, and shattered windows on nearby homes. Twenty-one of 40 tanks at the facility used to store jet fuel, bunker fuel and gasoline were destroyed or damaged by the fire.

Two people were injured as a result of the explosion. The fire, which burned for nearly three days, produced plumes of thick, black smoke that filled the air with hazardous contaminants, including carbon monoxide and sulfur. Prevailing winds spread these contaminants to several areas of San Juan and adjacent municipalities, including Catano, Levittown, Toa Baja and Bayamon, exposing thousands to toxic fumes.

More than 1,500 people were evacuated. Many evacuees, some of whom were suffering from respiratory illnesses, were unable to return for several days. Many businesses were also forced to close. Residents of San Juan and the surrounding area were advised to keep windows shut and to stay indoors.

There had been speculation that a deliberate act had set off the disaster. Suspicions were raised when graffiti with the message “Boom, fire, RIP, Gulf” was found scrawled in three locations around San Juan shortly after the explosion occurred.

But according to Reuters, the FBI said the a fuel leak occurred when one of the huge storage tanks at the facility was being filled, creating a vapor cloud. An unnamed source said that the gases were ignited by an unidentified energy source, possibly from a water treatment plant at the site.

FBI Special Agent In Charge Luis Fraticelli told Reuters that it was too early to say whether an act of negligence – such as a lack of maintenance or lax procedures – helped set off the blast.

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