Deadly fireworks blast hits market packed for holidays
TULTEPEC, MEXICO | The San Pablito fireworks market was especially well stocked for the holidays and bustling with hundreds of shoppers when a powerful chain-reaction explosion ripped through its stalls, killing at least 31 people and leaving dozens more badly burned.
The third such blast to ravage the market on the northern outskirts of Mexico’s capital since 2005 sent up a towering plume of smoke that was lit up by a staccato of bangs and flashes of light.
Once the smoke cleared, the open-air bazaar was reduced to a stark expanse of ash, rubble and the charred metal of fireworks stands, casting a pall over the country’s Christmas season.
Mexico State health officials said about 60 people were hospitalized for injuries from Tuesday’s explosion, including for severe burns, in some cases over 90 percent of their bodies.
On Wednesday, 47 people remained hospitalized, among them, 10 children. Authorities have not yet said what may have caused the explosions that took place in Mexico State, which rings the capital.
The Mexico State government said Wednesday the death toll rose to 31, after five people died at local hospitals. Mexico State chief prosecutor Alejandro Gomez said some of the dead were so badly burned that neither their age nor their gender could be immediately determined. He said the toll could rise because 12 people were listed as missing and some body parts were found at the scene.
A list of the nine bodies identified so far showed one of the dead included a 3-month-old boy and a 12-year-old girl. Mr. Gomez said a total of seven male minors were among the dead.
Survivor Crescencia Francisco Garcia said she was in the middle of the grid of stalls when the thunderous explosions began. She froze, reflexively looked up at the sky and then 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,” Ms. Francisco said. “The stones were flying, pieces of brick, everything was flying.”
Sirens wailed and a heavy scent of gunpowder lingered in the air well after the thunderous explosions at the market, which were widely seen in a dramatic video.
The smoking, burned-out 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 still-smoldering hot spots.
Tultepec Mayor Armando Portuguez Fuentes said the manufacture and sale of fireworks is a key part of the local economy. He added that it is regulated by law and under the “constant supervision” of the Defense Department, which oversees firearms and explosives.
“This is part of the activity of our town. It is what gives us identity,” Mr. Portuguez said. “We know it is high-risk, we regret this greatly, but unfortunately many people’s livelihoods depend on this activity.”
Soldiers and investigators walk through the scorched rubble of the open-air San Pablito fireworks market in Tultepec, Mexico, on Wednesday. The market was well stocked for the holidays and bustling with shoppers at the time of the explosion.