Wed, Jul 30, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Massive oil depot fire rages out of control in Tripoli

AFP, TRIPOLI

Smoke billows from a fuel storage depot near the airport in Tripoli on Monday.

Photo: EPA

A huge fire at an oil depot on the outskirts of Tripoli remained out of control yesterday, sparking fears of a fireball that could cause carnage over a wide area.

The fire, raging since Sunday night, on Monday spread to a second fuel storage site in what the government called a “very dangerous” development.

“The situation is very dangerous after a second fire broke out at another petroleum depot,” the government said, warning of a “disaster with unforeseeable consequences.”

The blaze erupted when a rocket struck a tank containing more than 6 million liters of fuel.

The depots are 10km from the city on the road to Tripoli’s international airport, which rival militias have been fiercely fighting for since the middle of the month.

Firefighters had been battling to extinguish the blaze, but ongoing clashes repeatedly forced them to flee the area.

“The firefighters have now left the scene. The situation is out of control,” a spokesman for the National Oil Company said on Monday.

The government urged residents “living within a 3km radius of the scene to leave their homes immediately.”

In its statement, the government issued yet another appeal to the combatants to “cease fire immediately.”

However, rockets were still being fired into the area, eyewitnesses reported.

The authorities feared the blaze could spread still further to a natural gas reservoir, where 90 million liters are stored.

Fighting in the area has claimed the lives of 97 people and left more than 400 injured, the latest figures from the Libyan Ministry of Health show.

Top world leaders on Monday urged an immediate ceasefire and called on the UN “to play an essential role in facilitating the political process” to restore stability to Libya.

The appeal came after a conference call between US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, according to Berlin.

On Monday, the first day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, a huge pall of black smoke hung over the plant and explosions could be heard at regular intervals.

While the oil burns, motorists in Tripoli are suffering severe gasoline shortages, as service stations have closed over fears for the safety of staff in light of the fighting.

Meanwhile, Libya on Monday denied claims from Cairo that Egyptian nationals were among those killed in a weekend rocket strike on a Tripoli house.

Cairo had said a rocket hit a house in the capital on Saturday, killing 23 people, including several Egyptians.

However, Libyan Ministry of the Interior spokesman Rami Kaal dismissed the claim.

“News reported in the press about this incident is completely wrong,” Kaal said.

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