Fire breaks out at Lebanon fuel storage facilities

Zahrani (Lebanon) (AFP) –


A fire erupted at key fuel storage facilities in southern Lebanon Monday, an AFP photographer and the National News Agency said, sparking alarm as the country grapples with dire hydrocarbon shortages.

"A huge fire broke out in one of the tanks at the Zahrani facilities containing petrol," the National News Agency said.

"The cause is not yet known."

There was no immediate report of casualties at the facilities some 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Beirut.

An AFP photographer saw flames lick up above the tank that was on fire, and huge plumes of dark smoke billow into the sky.

The army closed off roads leading to the facilities, including the main highway linking Beirut to the country's south, and cordoned off the area, he said.

Fire trucks worked to put out the fire, and prevent it from reaching nearby tanks.

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.

In recent months, Lebanese have only received one or two hours of state electricity a day.

The fire comes after the electricity grid went 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.