At least 29 people died and over 70 were injured in a massive explosion that gutted Mexico’s biggest fireworks market.
The incident happened at 2.50 pm (local time) on Tuesday when the San Pablito market at Mexico City suburb of Tultepec was packed with customers buying pyrotechnics for traditional end-of year festivities.
‘We have recovered 26 bodies from the spot. Three died in the hospital, for a total of 29 dead,’ Mexico state’s governor Eruviel Avila was quoted as saying by agencies.
Federal police said on Twitter that 70 people were hurt and were transported to emergency rooms.
Fire crews struggled for three hours before bringing the blaze under control.
According to the New York Times, the market was certified by the state’s Institute of Pyrotechnics, which just last month described it as ‘the safest in all of Latin America’.
“The entire market is gone,” said the head of the civil protection service Luis Felipe Puente, adding that firefighters had to wait for all the fireworks to finish exploding before they could extinguish the flames.
The cause of the blast is not known yet, however, some said it could have been caused by mishandling of gunpowder or other fireworks components.
Several of the injured are said to be critical and rescue workers are searching for more casualties in the scorched area.
Homes and vehicles nearby were also severely damaged. In some areas, authorities were gently probing for survivors under heaps of charred and twisted roofing material.
People desperately searching for family and friends shouted and gestured to rescuers about where they hoped their missing loved one might be found.
Most of those being picked up by rescuers had severe burns, many over their entire bodies.
The military, which is in charge of issuing fireworks sales permits, was deployed to help emergency crews transport casualties to hospitals by ambulance and helicopter.
Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted his condolences to the families of those killed and his wishes for recovery for those hurt.
The explosion at the San Pablito market was the third major blast there in the last 11 years. In 2005 and again in 2006, major explosions took place. While no one was killed in those two episodes, vendor stalls and surrounding areas were damaged, the NYT said.