Middleeast

When Kuwait was on fire, they saved the day

Published 7:19 PM ET, Thu January 5, 2017
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Oil workers battle a fire in Kuwait in 1991. It took nearly an entire year to cap the oil wells that were set on fire by Saddam Hussein's forces during the Gulf War. Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas/Contact Press Images/Taschen
Sebastiao Salgado photographed the workers, their faces stained with oil. His latest book, "Kuwait: A Desert on Fire," was recently published by Taschen. Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas/Contact Press Images/Taschen
Workers dive into a lake to help clean themselves off. Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas/Contact Press Images/Taschen
Many of the wellheads had to be repaired or replaced. "It was a bit like trying to put a new faucet on a broken water pipe -- without turning off the water," Salgado wrote in his book. Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas/Contact Press Images/Taschen
Hundreds of wells were set on fire by Iraqi troops. It was the largest oil spill in world history. Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas/Contact Press Images/Taschen
Salgado recalls intense heat, toxic fumes and deafening noise. "By the end of each day, my jaws literally ached from the sheer tension of being exposed for hours on end to heat, noise and oil and to the perennial hazard of a major explosion," he said. Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas/Contact Press Images/Taschen
A damaged oil tank in the Kuwaiti desert. Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas/Contact Press Images/Taschen
"Once the wells had stopped burning, they were still spewing oil, sometimes 40 feet into the air," Salgado said. Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas/Contact Press Images/Taschen
"Moving like phantoms through the gloom, covered in oil for hours on end, these men were too close to danger to think of anything but the job at hand," Salgado said. Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas/Contact Press Images/Taschen
Salgado dedicated his book to the "fearless men" who risked their lives to end the environmental crisis. Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas/Contact Press Images/Taschen
Men work together to stop gushing oil. Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas/Contact Press Images/Taschen
In addition to stopping an environmental crisis, the men helped stabilize Kuwait's economy as well as the global oil market. Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas/Contact Press Images/Taschen
The oil workers came from all around the world to help, Salgado said. Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas/Contact Press Images/Taschen
A wall of fire and smoke towers over a worker. Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas/Contact Press Images/Taschen
An oil-covered worker stops to rest. Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas/Contact Press Images/Taschen
A man herds sheep, their fur blackened by soot. Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas/Contact Press Images/Taschen