31 killed in Mex­ico fire­works blast

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

TULTEPEC, Mex­ico: A mas­sive ex­plo­sion gut­ted Mex­ico’s big­gest fire­works market on Tues­day, killing at least 31 peo­ple and in­jur­ing 72, the author­i­ties said.

The con­fla­gra­tion in the Mex­ico City sub­urb of Tultepec set off a quick-fire se­ries of mul­ti­col­ored blasts that sent a vast cloud of smoke bil­low­ing over the cap­i­tal. The market had been packed with cus­tomers buy­ing py­rotech­nics for tra­di­tional end-of-year fes­tiv­i­ties.

Christ­mas and New Year par­ties in many Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries of­ten wrap up with clat­ter­ing fire­work blasts. “You just heard the blast. And every­thing started to be on fire. Peo­ple came run­ning out on fire,” Wal­ter Gar­duno said. “Peo­ple were alight-chil­dren,” he added be­fore trail­ing off. From a few kilo­me­ters (miles) away, the mul­ti­ple ex­plo­sions that started at 2:50 pm (2050 GMT) al­most looked fes­tive, alight in blue, red and white.

They were any­thing but. Of the 31 con­firmed dead, “26 (died) at the scene and five in hos­pi­tals,” lo­cal me­dia re­ported Mex­ico’s chief pros­e­cu­tor Mile­nio Ale­jan­dro Gomez as say­ing. Foren­sic ex­perts are work­ing on ge­netic analy­ses of the bod­ies be­cause “al­most all of them are im­pos­si­ble” to iden­tify, Mex­ico state’s gov­er­nor Eru­viel Avila told the Tele­visa tele­vi­sion net­work.

At least 72 were wounded, the author­i­ties said. The in­jured were trans­ported to emer­gency rooms, and 21 have since been re­leased. Fire crews strug­gled for three hours be­fore bring­ing the blaze un­der con­trol.

En­tire market blown up

The head of the civil pro­tec­tion ser­vice, Luis Fe­lipe Puente, said crews had to wait for all the fire­works to fin­ish ex­plod­ing be­fore they could ex­tin­guish the flames. “The en­tire market is gone,” he said. It had 300 stands. Sev­eral of the in­jured were in “del­i­cate con­di­tion,” he added, say­ing searches were un­der way for more ca­su­al­ties in the scorched area that looked like a scene from a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic film, with lit­tle left stand­ing in the smol­der­ing ru­ins.

Homes and ve­hi­cles nearby were also se­verely dam­aged. In some ar­eas, emer­gency work­ers were gen­tly prob­ing for sur­vivors un­der heaps of charred and twisted roof­ing ma­te­rial. Peo­ple des­per­ately search­ing for fam­ily and friends shouted and ges­tured to res­cuers about where they hoped the miss­ing might be found.

Most of those picked up by res­cuers suf­fered se­vere burns, many over their en­tire bod­ies. The mil­i­tary, which is in charge of is­su­ing fire­works sales per­mits, was de­ployed to help emer­gency crews trans­port ca­su­al­ties to hos­pi­tals by am­bu­lance and he­li­copter.

Am­bu­lances, fire trucks, po­lice ve­hi­cles and army trucks all crowded the sprawl­ing blast area. Mex­ico’s Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto tweeted his con­do­lences to the fam­i­lies of those killed and his wishes for the in­jured to re­cover. The At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice has opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the cause of the con­fla­gra­tion, which was prompted by “six py­rotech­nic ex­plo­sions,” it said in a state­ment.

Some spec­u­lated the mis­han­dling of gun­pow­der or other fire­works com­po­nents may have set them off. That was the cause of an ex­plo­sion in Septem­ber 2005 at an­other fire­works market set up ahead of the In­de­pen­dence Day hol­i­day. That market was de­stroyed.

The fol­low­ing year, an­other ex­plo­sion de­stroyed more than 200 sell­ers’ stands. Both in­ci­dents left dozens of in­jured, but no fa­tal­i­ties. Ale­jan­dra Pre­tel, a res­i­dent in Tultepec, told AFP that she didn’t re­al­ize at first that the ex­plo­sions were com­ing from the large fire­works market. “We thought it was a nearby fire­works workshop,” she said.

Min­utes later, it be­came ev­i­dent the market was be­ing de­stroyed. “My neigh­bors said they felt every­thing shake,” she said, “but I didn’t re­al­ize be­cause I was run­ning away.”

MEX­ICO CITY: A mas­sive ex­plo­sion guts Mex­ico’s big­gest fire­works market on Tues­day.

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