Refinery continues to burn in western Venezuela

Venezuelan firefighters struggled Monday to extinguish a blaze sparked by a massive explosion that ripped through the country’s largest oil refinery.

The blast Saturday killed 48 people and critically injured numerous others. The fire continued to burn in two fuel storage tanks.

President Hugo Chávez, in the midst of a re-election bid, visited the Amuay facility Sunday and declared three days of mourning. He rejected suggestions that negligence caused the explosion and fire.

Venezuelan officials say they suspect a gas leak caused the explosion. The blast and fire damaged hundreds of nearby homes and businesses.

“We can’t even reach ground zero for anybody to say it was caused by lack of maintenance,” said Chávez. “I am aware of who is saying that, but I won’t lower myself to their level. I repeat, I would rather keep my spirits elevated and call on everybody to lift the human spirit above any political interests or what have you.”

The Venezuelan explosion and the shutdown of U.S. Gulf Coast refineries with the approach of Tropical Storm Isaac helped boost gasoline prices to near a four-month high. Oil prices initially rose, but then retreated on speculation that the storm’s effect might prove to be limited.

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