This image made from video recorded from a passing car shows an explosion ripping through the San Pablito fireworks market in Tultepec, Mexico, on Tuesday. (Jose Luis Tolentino via AP)

This image made from video recorded from a passing car shows an explosion ripping through the San Pablito fireworks market in Tultepec, Mexico, on Tuesday. (Jose Luis Tolentino via AP)

Deadly Mexico fireworks blast hit market packed for holidays

Associated Press

TULTEPEC, Mexico — Relatives of workers at a fireworks market flattened by a deadly chain-reaction explosion searched hospitals for loved ones Wednesday as attention focused on apparent lax security that allowed vendors to display their dangerous wares in the passageways between stalls.

Health Secretary Cesar Gomez Monge of Mexico State, where the San Pablito Market is located, said another victim died in a hospital, raising the fatal toll to 32. About 46 people remained hospitalized, five of them in such serious condition that they were fighting for their lives, he added. Ten of the injured were minors including one girl with burns over 90 percent 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 Tuesday afternoon. The following day she was one of the disconsolate residents waiting outside a local morgue.

“I can’t find my father, and my mother is very badly burned,” said Hernandez, 49. “I am waiting here for them to tell me if my father is here, but up to this point, nothing.”

San Pablito was especially well stocked for the holidays and bustling with hundreds of shoppers when the blast reduced the market to a stark expanse of ash, rubble and the 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.

“Everybody did it,” Leon said, speculating that it may have played a role in the rapid spread of the explosions.

Video and photos of the stalls from previous years showed concrete-block enclosures with open dirt passageways between them; later photos showed the passageways filling up with fireworks and awnings.

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

On Dec. 12 the city of Tultepec, where the market is located, issued a statement calling San Pablito “the safest market in Latin America.” It said 100 tons of fireworks were expected to be sold during the high season, which runs from August to New Year’s.

The city quoted Juan Ignacio Rodarte Cordero, the 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.” City officials said the stalls were equipped with trained personnel, sand, shovels and fire extinguishers.

But during a recent visit to the market, little of that safety equipment could be seen. And when Tuesday’s explosion began, vendors and customers didn’t have time to look for it — or even, in many cases, to run.

In a fireworks market in Jaltenco, about 30 minutes away from the San Pablito market, business was slow on Wednesday.

Rosa Maria Gonzalez, 47, indicated that her stand was 12 meters from the next nearest ones and said she believed that San Pablito’s passageways were narrower and more cluttered.

Gonzalez said she had a permit and met all of the other required safety measures with a bucket of sand and bucket of water at the ready. But she conceded it likely would not make a difference.

“When there is really an accident there isn’t time for anything,” Gonzalez said. “I’m not going to look for the sand, if it begins to go off the only thing you can do is run and wait until it all goes out.”

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,” 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 3-month-old boy and a 12-year-old girl. Gomez said a total of seven male minors were among the dead.

Tultepec Mayor Armando Portuguez Fuentes said late Tuesday that the manufacture and sale of fireworks is a key part of the local economy. He added that it is regulated by law and under the “constant supervision” of the Defense Department, which oversees firearms and explosives.

“This is part of the activity of our town. It is what gives us identity,” Portuguez said. “We know it is high-risk, we regret this greatly, but unfortunately many people’s livelihoods depend on this activity.”

Mexico State Interior Secretary Jose Manzur said 30,000 people make a living from fireworks in Tultepec and the trade had been going on there for two centuries.

“Everything is gone,” said Hernandez, the woman at the morgue, for whom the market represents a family business passed down from one generation to the next. “I know we lost everything, but I am going to start over.”

Two similar fires engulfed the San Pablito Market in 2005 and 2006, touching off chain-reaction explosions that leveled hundreds of stalls in each incident.

Deadly fireworks explosions have also occurred elsewhere in Mexico: In 2002, a blast at a market in the Gulf coast city of Veracruz killed 29; in 1999, 63 people died when an explosion of illegally stored fireworks destroyed part of the city of Celaya; and in 1988, a fireworks blast in Mexico City’s La Merced market killed at least 68; and in 2013 a rocket struck a truck loaded with fireworks for a religious procession in Tlaxcala state, killing 17 people.

In an editorial Wednesday, El Universal lamented what it called a “traditional tragedy.”

“Our country’s fascination with fireworks has caused, among other things, a long series of accidents with terrible results,” the newspaper said.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Kim Skarda points at her home on a map on Thursday, June 20, 2024 in Concrete, Washington. A community called Sauk River Estates has a very steep slope above it. There is a DNR-approved timber sale that boarders the estate properties, yet they were not consulted about the sale before approval. The community has already appealed the sale and has hired their own geologist to conduct a slope stability report at the site. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Beneath steep slope, Concrete neighbors fear landslides from logging above

Nielsen Brothers plans to cut 54 acres of timber directly behind the community of 83 homes. Locals said they were never consulted.

Law enforcement respond to a person hit by a train near the Port of Everett Mount Baker Terminal on Thursday, June 27, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
2 killed in waterfront train crashes were near Mukilteo ‘quiet zone’

In June, two people were hit by trains on separate days near Mukilteo Boulevard. “These situations are incredibly tragic,” Everett’s mayor said.

Rob Plotnikoff takes a measurement as a part of the county's State of Our Waters survey at Tambark Creek in Bothell, Washington on Monday, July 1, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Snohomish County stream team bushwhacks a path to healthier waterways

This summer, the crew of three will survey 40 sites for the State of Our Waters program. It’s science in locals’ backyards.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
4th suspect arrested after Mountlake Terrace home robbery

Police arrested Taievion Rogers, 19, on Tuesday. Prosecutors charged his three alleged accomplices in April.

A 10 acre parcel off of Highway 99, between 240th and 242nd Street Southwest that the city of Edmonds is currently in the process of acquiring on Monday, July 10, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds ditches $37M Landmark public park project off Highway 99

The previous mayor envisioned parks and more in south Edmonds, in a historically neglected area. The new administration is battling budget woes.

Edmonds school official sworn in as Mount Vernon supe

Victor Vergara took his oath of office last week. He was assistant superintendent of equity and student success in Edmonds.

Former president Donald Trump is seen with a bloody ear as he is assisted off the stage during a campaign rally in Butler, Pa., on Saturday. MUST CREDIT: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post
Pops, screams and then blood: On the scene at the Trump rally shooting

Isaac Arnsdorf, Jabin Botsford | The Washington Post BUTLER, Pa. - The… Continue reading

Biden, Democrats, Republicans denounce shooting at Trump rally

Reaction pours in from government leaders

A bloodied Donald Trump is surrounded by Secret Service agents at a campaign rally in Butler, Pa, on Saturday, July, 13, 2024. The former president was rushed off stage at rally after sounds like shots; the former president was escorted into his motorcade at his rally in Butler, Pa., a rural town about an hour north of Pittsburgh. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
Trump rally shooting investigated as assassination attempt

President Joe Biden gave a brief televised statement, condemning the violence as “sick.”

x
Man charged with hate crime in knife attack at Ezell’s in Edmonds

The suspect, 47, waved a knife at two workers while yelling about getting rid of “the Hispanics,” charging papers say.

Firefighters and EMTs with Sky Valley Fire tour Eagle Falls while on an observational trip on Wednesday, July 10, 2024, near Index, Washington. (Jordan Hansen / The Herald)
Beautiful but deadly: Drownings common at Eagle Falls, other local waters

Locals and firefighters are sounding the alarm as Eagle Falls and the Granite Falls Fish Ladder have claimed five lives this year.

A view of the south eastern area of the Lake Stevens that includes lakeshore and UGA that is a part of the city's annexation area on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020 in Lake Stevens, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lake Stevens fight to take over sewer district could end soon

The city and sewer district have been locked in a yearslong dispute. A judge could put an end to the stalemate this month.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.