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CARACAS, VENEZUELA — An intense fire at an oil refinery in northwestern Venezuela spread to a third fuel tank on Monday, nearly three days after an explosion which has now claimed the lives of at least 41 people, authorities said. More than 150 others have been injured.
The blast occurred early Saturday at around 1 a.m. local time at the Amuay refinery of the Paraguana Refinery Complex in Punto Fijo, a city in the country's Paraguana Peninsula in Falcon state. The site is the country's largest refinery and the world's second-biggest refinery complex.
Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua said in a message on the social networking website Twitter that the fire had spread to a third fuel tank on Monday. Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez earlier told reporters that the fire was "under control" and that authorities were hoping to extinguish the flames soon and resume output within two days.
Meanwhile, Attorney-General Luisa Ortega Díaz said rescue workers have now recovered 41 bodies, of which 40 have been identified. Among those killed are at least 18 National Guard troops and 15 civilians, including a 10-year-old boy. At least 151 others have been injured, of which 33 remained hospitalized on late Monday.
The Attorney-General's office said a team of 50 officials will investigate the cause of Saturday's explosion. "We will await the results of the experts in order to consider possible scenarios to determine what could be the cause of the accident," Ortega Díaz said, adding that it was impossible to say how long it will take to find the cause. "We cannot pressure the investigators. We must take time."
Initial reports have indicated that a gas leak may have caused the devastating blast, which also damaged more than 200 homes in a neighborhood near the refinery. Many residents said they did not know something was wrong until the blast hit, waking up residents who initially thought an earthquake had struck.
President Hugo Chavez previously declared three days of national mourning, describing the disaster as a 'tragedy.'