By Agence France-Presse
At least 19 people were killed in a series of explosions Thursday at fireworks warehouses in the town of Tultepec in central Mexico, including rescue workers who died saving others’ lives, officials said.
The initial explosion occurred around 9:30 am (1430 GMT), then spread to other warehouses just as police and firefighters began attending to the first victims in the town, which is known for its artisanal fireworks — and a history of deadly accidents.
“We deeply regret the deaths of those who were killed this morning in… Tultepec, including our firefighter and police colleagues who lost their lives saving those of many others,” read a tweet from the Red Cross in the state of Mexico, where Tultepec is located.
At least 19 people were killed — including a minor — and 40 wounded, said state Interior Minister Alejandro Ozuna.
Hundreds of soldiers, police, and firefighters deployed to the neighborhood of Xahuento, on the outskirts of the town, cordoning off a wide area around the smoldering workshops where the explosions occurred.
“I was having breakfast when there was a terrible blast. We left the house running and I saw a huge white cloud in the sky as if it were going to rain — except today it rained fire,” said Alondra Perez, 62, who lives across the road.
An anguished teenager was asking rescue workers for information about his father, a fireworks maker who worked in the area.
“The last time I saw him was this morning. I left school to look for him as soon as we heard about the explosion. But they won’t let me through and nobody is giving me any information,” said Allan Osvaldo, 14.
Rescue workers confirmed that some of their own had been caught in the explosions, though it was not immediately clear how many.
A police officer told AFP an ambulance had been completely charred in one of the blasts.
“People here insist on continuing to make fireworks. It’s their tradition. But they don’t gage the consequences of these tragedies. It’s infuriating because our firefighter colleagues… end up dead saving these people,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
History of accidents
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto sent his condolences to the victims’ families on Twitter and said the army and interior ministry were supporting the state rescue effort.
Tultepec is known for making the fireworks that Mexicans traditionally use to celebrate holidays and saints’ days. It has been hit by devastating explosions in the past.
In December 2016, 42 people were killed and 70 injured in a series of spectacular explosions at Tultepec’s San Pablito market, the largest fireworks market in the country.
On that occasion, investigators say a rocket exploded at the market and set off a chain reaction of other blasts.
The market, which was filled with people shopping for Christmas and New Year’s festivities, was reduced to smoldering ruins.
The San Pablito market had been rocked by two explosions in the past: in September 2005 and again the following year.
Both those accidents left dozens injured, but no fatalities.
Fourteen people, including 11 children, died in May 2017 in another explosion at a fireworks warehouse in the central village of San Isidro, in Puebla state.