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Massive fire at oil plant in southern Lebanon

By The Associated Press

Zahrani: A massive fire broke out in a storage tank at one of Lebanon’s main oil facilities in the country’s south on Monday, spreading orange flames and a thick black column of smoke across the sky.

The state-run national news agency said it was not immediately clear what caused the blaze, even more than two hours after the fire broke out. Firefighters arrived at the scene and were battling a blaze in a huge gasoline tanker in the coastal town of Zahrani.

The report said that no employee was around at the time of the fire. Lebanese troops closed the main highway connecting Beirut with southern Lebanon that passes through Zahrani.

The Zahrani Oil Plant is about 50 kilometers (30 mi) south of Beirut. It is close to one of Lebanon’s main power stations, which stopped working two days ago due to a lack of fuel. Lebanon is battling a severe power crisis that results in power outages for up to 22 hours a day.

Chief of Civil Defense Raymond Khattar told the local MTV station he believed the tanker contained 300,000 liters of petrol. Khattar said work was being done to douse the fire and cool a tanker nearby so that it could not ignite.

In August 2020, a fire at the port of Beirut triggered a massive explosion that killed at least 215 people, injured thousands and destroyed the facility and surrounding areas. The explosion at the port of Beirut was caused by hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers, that had been improperly stored for years.

Earlier this year, a German company found dangerous nuclear material stored at the facility in Zahrani. Eight smaller containers weighing less than 2 kilograms (4.4 lb) containing less uranium salts were removed shortly after.

The material has been stored at the facility since the 1950s, when it was run by the Mediterranean Refinery Company, or Medraco. Medraco was an American company whose main shareholders were Mobil and Caltex, and it was active in Lebanon for four decades, until the late 1980s.

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