Puerto Rico: Massive Oil Refinery Explosion

At around 12:30 am on Friday, October 23, the Gulf Oil Refinery (Caribbean Petroleum Company-CAPECO) in Bayamón (in the metropolitan area), Puerto Rico, exploded massively.  Almost 20 tanks have exploded since then, the fire is still burning although it has been contained, and an immense and never ending tower of smoke is covering the sky. More than a 1,000 people who live in the surrounding neighborhoods have been relocated, and five municipalities have been declared in state of emergency. Activists and scientists have warned about the devastating ecological consequences of this disaster, and how it will affect people's health. Community leaders of the surrounding neighborhoods have been warning the government for years about the environmental and health implications of living close to an oil refinery.

The causes of the explosion are still under investigation.

Video of the explosion posted on YouTube by ZuperJ.

In Haciendo punto en otro blog [ES], journalist and blogger Carmel Ruiz comments:

On Thursday night the Gulf Oil refinery in the nearby town of Cataño blew up. The blast and shock waves were felt twenty miles away. It was a sound like nothing I had ever heard in my life (the shock wave actually opened my bedroom door). In the four or five seconds after the explosion, the fireball was as bright as the three o'clock sun The fire is still burning, the plume of smoke is like nothing ever seen in Puerto Rico.

View of the tunnel of smoke caused by the explosion. Photo by Alberto Marty.

View of the tunnel of smoke caused by the explosion. Photo by Alberto Marty.

Historian and blogger Ivone Acosta was also affected by the blast, as she expresses in Sin mordazas [ES]:

No me atrevo salir. Ya dos amigas que conocen mis alergias me llamaron para advertirme eso mismo, que no salga porque el aire contiene demasiados particulados peligrosos y que cierre todas las ventanas. Como quiera, no me interesa ver la histeria de la gente que por menos que eso se paniquean. Ya he visto comentarios en el periódico en línea acusando a “los socialistas de siempre”.

I dare not venture out. Already two friends who know about my allergies have called me to warn me that I should not leave the house because the air has too many dangerous particulates. They said I should close the windows. Anyway, I am not in the least interested in seeing people in hysteria who enter in panic with even less important things. I have already seen comments in the newspapers accusing the “same old socialists” of the explosion.

To understand Acosta's comments, some context is necessary. Just as recently as last October 15 there was a national strike in Puerto Rico. Government officials have accused demonstrators of being terrorists.

In Observations from the “Island of Enchantment”, blogger Adriana remembers how she felt when she heard the explosion:

Yesterday, when I woke up, I heard the distant sounds of helicopters flying. I though to myself, well, maybe something's going on in the housing projects (caseríos). A short while later, I found out about the explosion. Although it had occurred in Cataño, which is just outside of San Juan, I saw the black clouds from my house. The magnitude of the explosion registered a 2.8 on the richter scale. Thousands of people had to be evacuated. Law enforcement officials are currently investigating the causes of the explosion. I can't imagine what the environmental, health and economic consequences will amount to. Luckily, no deaths have been reported.

The conversation in Twitter is running under the the hashtag #explosionpr. For photos you can check El Difusor. Alternative media outlets Diálogo and Prensa Comunitaria are offering minute-by-minute coverage, as are mainstream media Primera Hora, El Nuevo Día and El Vocero.

*First video by Luis Andrei Muñoz posted on Flickr. Republished under a Creative Commons License.


  • It’s hard to make an investigation, since the scene is still active. Still, I would be hard pressed to believe there is foul play involved. First off, most of the more leftist groups are quite for the enviroment, and I find it unlikely this would be their doing. Second, I REALLY don’t think you can just light a bonfire to ignite that kind of installation. I doubt even crashing your car against it would do the trick, and if there’s one thing we don’t have here, it is suicide bombers. We just don’t.

    It is more likely to be an accident, or the government trying to distract our attention from all the dick moves they’ve been up to recently.

  • Rico D'avate

    A real concern is that has there been lax maintenance involved here-which would be criminal. I love La Isla with a passion, but I must say
    I’ve heard complaints of and witness some REALLY bad service at pricey establishments,and for the life of me (given the current economy) I cannot understand that.One would expect people to try HARDER, not be sloppier.

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