Deadly fire­works blast hits mar­ket packed for hol­i­days

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY CHRISTO­PHER SHER­MAN AND MARIA VERZA

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.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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