Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Deadly blasts hit Mexico fireworks market days before Christmas

Forensic investigators scoured the charred remains of a fireworks market outside Mexico City on Wednesday after a series of blasts that killed at least 31 people and injured dozens more in a fiery disaster just days before Christmas.

Videos of the blasts at the busy San Pablito market on Tuesday showed a spectacular flurry of pyrotechnics exploding high into the sky, like rockets in a war zone, as a massive plume of charcoal-gray smoke billowed out from the site.

On Wednesday morning, a smell of burning hung over the ashen wasteland that had replaced the market, which was strewn with twisted metal frames and the wreckage of stalls. There was no word yet on what caused the blasts.

"It's a catastrophe," said Guadalupe Sanchez from nearby Cuautitlan Izcalli, as she searched for her uncle, 52, who owned a market stall, and two nephews, aged 15 and 9.

It was the third time in just over a decade that explosions have struck the popular marketplace in Tultepec, home to the country's best-known fireworks shopping and about 20 miles (32 km) north of Mexico City in the adjacent State of Mexico.

A few blackened cars ringed the site, and at one of the exits stood a sign reading "Tultepec, Firework Capital." The market was particularly full on Tuesday as many Mexicans buy fireworks to celebrate Christmas and the New Year.

"Everything was destroyed, it was very ugly and many bodies were thrown all over the place, including a lot of children. It's the worst thing I've ever seen in my life," said 24-year-old housewife Angelica Avila, tears running down her face.

Avila spoke outside a nearby hospital as she waited for an update on the health of her brother, a fireworks salesman, who she said was burned and also suffered a heart attack.

Alejandro Gomez, the state attorney general, told local television on Wednesday morning the explosions also injured 70 people. Another 12 people were listed as missing, he said.

Investigators are studying burnt human remains at the site, but are not sure if they belong to individuals already confirmed dead, Gomez said.

What caused the blasts remains unclear, he said, adding he could not corroborate accounts pointing to a detonation at one stall that may have begun a chain reaction.

The federal attorney general's office opened an investigation, saying late on Tuesday that there were six separate blasts.
The vast majority of the market's 300 stalls were completely destroyed, said state official Jose Manzur, adding that the site was inspected by safety officials just last month and no irregularities were found.

The director of Tultepec emergency services, Isidro Sanchez, told local television earlier on Tuesday that the blasts were likely caused by a lack of adequate safety measures.

In late 2005, explosions struck the fireworks market days before Independence Day celebrations, injuring scores of people. Another explosion gutted the area again almost a year later.

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