Firefighters in Lebanon Monday battled to contain a fire at key fuel storage facilities, AFP correspondents and the National News Agency said, sparking alarm as the country grapples with dire hydrocarbon shortages.
The fire broke out at around 8.00am (0500 GMT) in a tank containing petrol belonging to the army at the Zahrani facilities some 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Beirut, the National News Agency and local media said.
There was no immediate report of casualties.
A judicial source said an expert had been tasked with investigating the cause of the fire, but had been unable to approach the tank as the blaze still raged.
An AFP photographer saw flames lick up above the storage tank on fire, and huge plumes of dark smoke billowing into the sky.
Firemen worked to cool down the nearby tanks to prevent the fire from spreading.
The army cordoned off the area, cutting off roads leading to the facilities as well as the main highway linking Beirut to the country’s south, the photographer said.
– ‘Loud bang’ –
A worker in a plantation near the facilities told AFP he had heard a loud bang before the fire broke out.
The Zahrani facilities also include the power plant of the same name, and provide 15 percent of the country’s fuel oil.
The Mediterranean nation is battling one of the planet’s worst economic crises since the 1850s, and has in recent months struggled to import enough fuel oil for its power plants.
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In recent months, Lebanese have only received one or two hours of state electricity a day.
The fire comes after the electricity grid went completely offline on Saturday.
That outage came after two key power plants, including the one in Zahrani, ran out of fuel.
By Sunday limited supply was back after the army provided gas oil.
Most Lebanese saw no major change to their daily lives during the blackout, as those who can afford it have already subscribed to private generators to keep the lights on during the almost round-the-clock power cuts.
Petrol has also been in short supply, forcing motorists to queue for hours outside gas stations to fill up their tank.