DEADLY FIRE­WORKS BLAST IN MEX­ICO

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Christo­pher Sher­man and Peter Orsi

A pow­er­ful ex­plo­sion ripped through Mex­ico’s best-known fire­works market north of Mex­ico City, killing dozens of peo­ple. It was full of hol­i­day shop­pers Tues­day.

TUL­TE­PEC, MEX­ICO» A pow­er­ful chain­re­ac­tion ex­plo­sion ripped through Mex­ico’s best-known fire­works market on the north­ern out­skirts of the cap­i­tal Tues­day, killing at least 29 peo­ple, in­jur­ing scores more and send­ing a huge plume of char­coal-gray smoke into the sky.

The blast lev­eled the open-air San Pablito Market in Tul­te­pec in the mid­dle of the af­ter­noon as it bus­tled with shop­pers stock­ing up on fire­works to cel­e­brate Christmas and New Year’s, re­duc­ing ven­dors’ stands to piles of rub­ble, ash and charred metal. It was the third dev­as­tat­ing ex­plo­sion and fire to rav­age the market since 2005.

Cres­cen­cia Francisco Gar­cia said she was in the mid­dle of the grid of stalls along with a few hun­dred oth­ers when the thun­der­ous ex­plo­sions be­gan. She froze, re­flex­ively looked up at the sky and took off run­ning through the smoke once she re­al­ized ev­ery­one was do­ing so. As she ran she saw peo­ple with burns and cuts and lots of blood.

“Ev­ery­thing was catch­ing fire. Ev­ery­thing was ex­plod­ing,” Francisco said. “The stones were fly­ing, pieces of brick, ev­ery­thing was fly­ing.”

Ale­jan­dro Gomez, chief pros­e­cu­tor of the state of Mex­ico, raised the death toll from nine to 26 in com­ments broad­cast on Mex­i­can tele­vi­sion. At least 70 in­juries were re­ported. Au­thor­i­ties have not yet said what caused the ex­plo­sion.

“Mex­ico is in mourn­ing,” state Gov. Eru­viel Avila said.

Sirens wailed, and a heavy scent of gun­pow­der lin­gered in the air well af­ter the ex-

plo­sion at the market, where most of the stalls were de­stroyed. The smok­ing, burned­out shells of ve­hi­cles ringed the perime­ter, and first re­spon­ders and lo­cal res­i­dents wear­ing blue masks over their mouths combed through the ash and de­bris. Fire­fight­ers hosed down smol­der­ing hotspots.

Ce­sar Or­nelas of Ati­za­pan de Zaragoza was only 10 min­utes into shop­ping with his son and his fa­ther when he heard the first ex­plo­sions. He tried to run, but some­thing knocked him to the ground from be­hind. He tried sev­eral times to get up, un­suc­cess­fully, and ul­ti­mately his 15year-old son, Francisco, had to drag him out.

“We didn’t look back,” said Or­nelas, who suf­fered light burns and a large bruise over his left kid­ney. His white tank top had a fist-size burn on the chest. “We heard how the ex­plo­sion was kind of go­ing off bit by bit.”

Nearly four hours later, he and Francisco limped gin­gerly out of the market area. Francisco said paramedics told him his leg was likely frac­tured by fly­ing de­bris. Or­nelas said his 67-year-old fa­ther, Ernesto, had run in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion and sought refuge in a nearby home. All the fa­ther’s cloth­ing was burned, and his face and arm were blood­ied. An am­bu­lance had spir­ited him to a hos­pi­tal, but Or­nelas wasn’t sure where it was or how se­ri­ous his in­juries were.

The Mex­i­can Red Cross said it sent 10 am­bu­lances with 50 paramedics to the scene.

“My con­do­lences to the fam­i­lies of those who lost their lives in this ac­ci­dent and my wishes for a quick re­cov­ery for the in­jured,” Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto said.

Na­tional Civil Pro­tec­tion Co­or­di­na­tor Luis Felipe Puente told Mile­nio tele­vi­sion that some nearby homes were also dam­aged. The scene re­mained dan­ger­ous and he asked peo­ple not to come within 3 miles to avoid ham­per­ing the emer­gency re­sponse.

A sim­i­lar fire en­gulfed the San Pablito Market in 2005, touch­ing off a chain of ex­plo­sions that lev­eled hun­dreds of stalls just be­fore Mex­ico’s In­de­pen­dence Day. A year later a sim­i­lar in­ci­dent at the same market also de­stroyed hun­dreds of stands.

Many in Mex­ico tra­di­tion­ally cel­e­brate Christmas, New Year’s and other hol­i­days by set­ting off noisy fire­crack­ers and rock­ets.

Fire­fight­ers work amid the de­bris left by a huge blast that de­stroyed a fire­works market in a sub­urb of Mex­ico City and killed at least 29 peo­ple. Ron­aldo Schemidt, AFP/Getty Im­ages

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