Firefighters battle blaze at southern Lebanon fuel storage tank

Firefighters were attempting to control the blaze in the Zahrani oil facility in southern Lebanon. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIRUT (REUTERS) - A fire broke out on Monday (Oct 11) at an oil facility fuel storage tank in southern Lebanon, sending a column of smoke into the air as firefighters doused the flames and a security source said the army was cooling nearby tanks to stop the blaze spreading.

There was no immediate official comment or reports of casualties at the Zahrani oil facility on the Mediterranean coast. The security source said the fire at a gasoline tank had yet to be brought under control.

The army was diverting traffic away from the facility, the security source said, adding that the area was sparsely populated.

The facility at Zahrani, around 8km south of the city of Sidon, houses one of the country's main power stations.

The Lebanese army was evacuating the region amid fears that the fire would spread and cause an explosion, Al Jadeed TV channel reported.

The fire is the latest disaster to hit Lebanon, where fuel shortages amid a deep economic crisis forced the country's two biggest power plants, one in Zahrani and the other in Deir Ammar, to shut down on Saturday bringing the already straining power network to a complete halt.

The energy ministry said on Sunday that power had been restored to what it was before the blackout, when the Lebanese army provided 6,000 kilolitres of gas oil to the two power stations.

Lebanon is in the throes of an economic meltdown dubbed by the World Bank as one of the deepest depressions of modern history. Three quarters of its population have been plunged into poverty and the currency has lost 90 per cent 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.

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