Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela's Amuay oil refinery reopens after fire

Firefighters work at extinguishing flames from fuel storage tanks at Amuay oil refinery in Punto Fijo, in the Peninsula of Paraguana, 28 August 2012
Image caption Firefighters took several days to put out the fires

Venezuela's largest oil refinery has resumed production after a massive blast killed 42 people last week, state oil company PDVSA says.

Last Saturday's explosion at the Amuay refinery in the west of the country set oil tanks on fire for days.

The cause of the blast is unclear, but officials have pointed to a gas leak.

Critics have accused PDVSA of neglecting maintenance as it funnels oil revenue into social programmes run by President Hugo Chavez' government.

"Operational activities have resumed safely and gradually" at Amuay, a company spokesman said on Friday.

Two production units with a combined capacity of 160,000 barrels of oil per day are now back up and running, with a third due to restart soon, PDVSA said.

The Amuay refinery, which is part of the Paraguana Refinery Complex, is capable of refining 645,000 bpd.

President Hugo Chavez, who has promised a $23m (£14.5m) fund for clean-up operations, has said there is no evidence the explosion was the result of poor maintenance.

But his main rival in October's presidential election, Henrique Capriles, and other critics have said government inefficiency and under-investment under Mr Chavez have led to a decline in safety standards.

In its latest statement, the company said 42 people had been killed. Earlier reports had put the death toll at 48.

Half of those who died in the incident were members of the National Guard who were protecting the refinery.

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