Lightning strike sparks Venezuela oil refinery blaze

CARACAS (AFP) - A lightning bolt ignited fuel at an oil refinery east of Caracas, sending giant columns of black smoke into the sky and forcing hundreds to evacuate.

Despite the dramatic scene there were no victims and Sunday's blaze was controlled just hours after it broke out, President Nicolas Maduro said in a message on Twitter.

The lightning struck the Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) refinery of Guaraguao in Puerto La Cruz, in Anzoategui state, located 220 km east of the capital Caracas.

State governor Aristobulo Isturiz said that all residents in a one km radius of the fire were evacuated as a precautionary measure.

Mr Asdrubal Chavez, the PDVSA vice president for refining, said that the lightning was a result of heavy rain pounding the region.

He later said that the residents forced to leave their homes were allowed back, that the refinery suffered no major damage, and that it continued to operate normally.

In July a fire broke out at unit in Amuay, the country's main oil refinery site in the state of Falcon. Authorities said the blaze was quickly contained and that there were no victims.

However in 2012 a gas leak at Amuay caused an explosion that destroyed nine fuel tanks, killing more than 40 people and injuring more than 150.