Puerto Rico Oil Explosion Prompts White House to Declare State of Emergency

The White House has declared a stated of emergency in Puerto Rico, following Friday’s massive oil explosion and fire at the Caribbean Petroleum Corp. storage facility outside San Juan. According to a CNN report, the fire is still burning out of control, and the FBI is treating the site of the blast as a crime scene.

According to the Washington Post, on Saturday shifting wind threatened to bring plumes of toxic smoke closer to populated areas of the island. However, Puerto Rico’s Gov. Luis Fortuno said he does not believe more evacuations will be necessary. The number of people evacuated because of the disaster now stands at about 1,500.

Eighteen of the facility’s storage tanks have been destroyed. Five are still burning, four have collapse into the flames the Post said. According to CNN, 12 tanks are smoking.

At least 130 firefighters and National Guard troops are working to bring the inferno under control, but it is expected that it will take several days to extinguish the fire. The National Guard took the lead in coordinating management of the disaster yesterday. According to The Washington Post, heavy equipment from the National Guard and island pharmaceutical firms have been moved to the site, and a temporary pipeline from San Juan Bay to supply seawater to fight the fire has been erected. Foam used in putting out oil fires was shipped from the U.S. Virgin Islands.

President Obama’s declaration of a state of emergency frees up federal aid to the island. Gov. Fortuno has said that the blaze has cost Puerto Rico at least $6.4 million.

According to CNN, the FBI’s decision to treat the blast site as a crime scene is “routine.” But as we reported previously, officials have said they were concerned by some graffiti found Friday in two San Juan highway tunnels. The graffiti reportedly included the message: “Boom, fire, RIP, Gulf, Soul, ACNF.” It is not known who or what ACNF refers too, CNN said.

The Caribbean Petroleum Corp. is the owner of the Gulf brand in Puerto Rico. The facility where the explosion occurred is a gasoline warehouse and distribution center where jet fuel, bunker fuel and gasoline are stored. The facility also includes a 48,000 barrel-per-day (b/d) refinery, but according to the company, the refinery was not in operation at the time of the explosion.

The explosion at the Caribbean Petroleum Corp. facility occurred around 12:30 a.m. Friday. 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.

According to CNN, the Caribbean Petroleum Corp. had been sited with violating the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and was operating under a corrective action plan. The Act is the major U.S. law dealing with the disposal of solid and hazardous wastes.

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