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South Africa's second-largest crude refinery shutdown after blast

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Firefighters work to extinguish a fire started by an explosion at the Engen oil refinery in Durban, South Africa, December 4, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

South Africa’s second-largest crude oil refinery, the 120,000 barrel per day plant operated by Engen, has been shut down for investigators to determine the cause of the early Friday “fire incident,” the company says.

Engen, which runs the plant in the east coast city of Durban, and is majority owned by Malaysia’s Petronas, said it was working hard to ensure supply of petroleum products to Africa’s most industrialized economy.

The fire broke out following an explosion, emergency responders said, adding that no one was killed or hurt in the blast.

“Nobody was injured” in the “massive” blast, provincial emergency services spokesman Robert Mckenzie said via WhatsApp.

He added that a nearby block of flats also caught fire almost at the same time as the explosion.

Firefighters managed to extinguish most of the flames by mid-morning and bring both fires under control, while paramedics treated seven people for smoke inhalation.

Residents in Wentworth, an impoverished neighborhood in the southern outskirts of the city, were angered by the blast -- the third hazardous incident to occur at the refinery in less than 13 years.

The plant shut down for four months after a similar explosion in 2008.

A fire broke out the previous year when lightning struck a fuel storage tank, although the refinery remained operational after that incident.

The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) on Friday said it would lay criminal charges against Engen for “cutting corners.”

“It has blown up because the refinery is toxic and they do not maintain (it),” SDCEA coordinator Desmond D’Sa said in a Facebook video after the explosion.

The group is also calling for an independent investigation and air quality monitoring in the area.

Greenpeace said the Wentworth community was regularly exposed to “toxic gases” that caused respiratory diseases and could have “devastating” long-term health impacts.

“Rampant respiratory problems that have afflicted communities in the South Durban Basin have been as a result of Engen’s operations,” said Greenpeace Africa climate and energy campaigner Nhlanhla Sibisi in a statement on Friday.

(Source: Agencies)

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