Investigation Begins at Site of Deadly Blast at Mexico Fireworks Market

Mexico fireworks
Police officers walk amongst the wreckage of houses destroyed in an explosion at the San Pablito fireworks market outside the Mexican capital on Tuesday, in Tultepec, Mexico, December 20. Edgard Garrido/Reuters

Teams of forensic investigators pored over the charred remains of fireworks market outside Mexico City on Wednesday after a series of blasts a day earlier killed at least 31 people and injured dozens more in a disaster marked by disbelief and tears.

Videos of the blasts at the San Pablito market 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.

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

Eruviel Avila, the state's governor, said the explosions injured at least 72 people while another 53 remained missing.

"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 as tears ran 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.

The federal attorney general's office opened an investigation, saying in a statement late on Tuesday that six separate blasts kicked off the destruction.

Director of Tultepec emergency services Isidro Sanchez told local television earlier on Tuesday that a lack of adequate safety measures was the likely cause of the blasts.

The vast majority of the market's 300 stalls were completely destroyed by the explosions, said state official Jose Manzur, adding that the site was inspected by safety officials just last month and no irregularities were found.

In late 2005, explosions struck the same Tultepec fireworks market just days before independence day celebrations, injuring scores of people.

Another explosion gutted the area again almost a year later.

The market was particularly busy on Tuesday as many Mexicans buy fireworks to celebrate the upcoming Christmas and New Year's holidays.