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Sunday 18 August 2019

Mexico fireworks market chain-reaction explosion leaves 32 dead

This image made from video recorded from a passing car shows an explosion ripping through the San Pablito fireworks market in Tultepec (Jose Luis Tolentino/AP)
This image made from video recorded from a passing car shows an explosion ripping through the San Pablito fireworks market in Tultepec (Jose Luis Tolentino/AP)
Firefighters and rescue workers comb through ashes and rubble at the open-air San Pablito fireworks market in Tultepec (AP)

At least 32 people have been killed after a fireworks market was flattened by a deadly chain-reaction explosion on the outskirts of Mexico City.

Health Secretary Cesar Gomez Monge, of Mexico State, where the San Pablito market is located in the city of Tultepec, said 46 people remained in hospital, five of them in such serious condition they are fighting for their lives.

Ten of the injured were minors, including one girl with burns over 90% of her body.

Juana Antolina Hernandez, who has run a stand for 22 years in San Pablito next to one operated by her parents, escaped the market in a mad dash when the explosions began on Tuesday afternoon.

"I can't find my father and my mother is very badly burned," she said. "I am waiting here for them to tell me if my father is here, but up to this point, nothing."

San Pablito was bustling with hundreds of shoppers when the blast reduced the market to a stark expanse of ash, rubble and scorched metal, casting a pall over the Christmas season.

Dramatic video of the explosion showed a towering plume of smoke that was lit up by a staccato of bangs and flashes of light, the third such incident to ravage the market on the northern outskirts of Mexico's capital since 2005.

Refugio Leon, who spent years working at the market and whose family ran seven stalls there, said vendors commonly stacked displays of bottle rockets and firecrackers outside their establishments in the passageways - even though the rules supposedly forbade putting merchandise in what was supposed to be a safety buffer to prevent chain-reaction explosions.

Officials in Mexico State, which borders Mexico City, said it was too early to identify a cause of the massive series of blasts.

On December 12 the city of Tultepec issued a statement calling San Pablito "the safest market in Latin America".

The city quoted Juan Ignacio Rodarte Cordero, director of the state's Fireworks Institute, as saying "the stalls are perfectly designed and with sufficient space between them to avoid any chain of fires".

However, the president of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, Alejandra Barrales, noted that fireworks accidents take place regularly, including four this year alone.

"This demonstrates the lack of care and attention not just here but in the whole state," Mr Barrales said in a statement.

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, and that DNA tests would be needed.

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 included a three-month-old boy and a 12-year-old girl.


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