BEIRUT (Reuters) -Firefighters put out a blaze that raged for several hours at a gasoline storage tank in southern Lebanon on Monday, the latest blow to a nation grappling with crippling economic and fuel crises.
There were no reports of casualties in the fire at the Zahrani oil facility on the Mediterranean coast, which had sent a huge column of smoke into the sky.
Energy minister Walid Fayad said the fire resulted from a “mistake” while gasoline was being transported from one storage tank to another, the National News Agency (NNA) reported.
“We must await the results of the investigation into the causes of the fire,” he added.
A security source and a witness said the blaze had been put out after a battle that lasted most of the morning. Fire trucks from Beirut some 45 km (30 miles) away were ordered to go and help, the NNA reported.
The gasoline belonged to the army, the prime minister’s office earlier quoted Fayad as saying earlier.
The army had diverted traffic away from the facility in a sparsely-populated area, the security source said.
Zahrani, around 8 km (5 miles) south of the city of Sidon, also houses one of Lebanon’s main power stations.
Lebanon has been hit by a string of calamities including the catastrophic chemicals explosion at Beirut port last year which killed more than 200 people and devastated swathes of the city.
At the weekend, fuel shortages led the country’s two biggest power plants – the one in Zahrani and another in Deir Ammar in the north – to shut down completely, adding to the hardship of Lebanese who have struggled with meagre supplies of state-generated power for months and often face long queues for vehicle fuel.
The energy ministry had said on Sunday that power was being restored to the levels before the blackout, after the army provided 6,000 kilolitres of gas oil to Zahrani and Deir Ammar power plants.
The World Bank says Lebanon is suffering one of the deepest depressions of modern history. Three quarters of its population have been plunged into poverty and the currency has lost 90% of its value in the past two years.
Lebanese have had to increasingly rely on private generators for power, with expensive fuel oil bills, as the state electricity company provided a few if any hours of service a day to their districts.
(Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad and Maha El DahanWriting by Maher Chmaytelli and Tom PerryEditing by Edmund Blair and Mark Potter)