MEXICO CITY— A chain reaction of explosions at Mexico’s largest fireworks market on Tuesday afternoon has left at least 29 dead and 70 injured, according to preliminary reports by Mexican authorities.
The smell of gunpowder still filled the air on Tuesday night as firemen and state police rummaged through the debris of burned fireworks stands and warehouses searching for victims. A thick cloud of smoke wafted over the market, making it look like a war zone.
The explosion happened between 2:30 and 3:00 PM in the San Pablito Market in the municipality of Tultepec, in the State of Mexico which borders Mexico City. The fireworks stands ignited like a string of firecrackers, wiping out the entire market.
The Mexican Attorney General’s Office (PGR) has launched an investigation into what caused the initial explosion.
Governor Eruviel Avila told Mexican network Televisa that at least three children were among the 70 injured people. The kids reportedly have nearly 70% of their bodies burned and efforts are already underway to transfer them to a special burn unit in Texas for treatment.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced on Twitter that he has deployed in the army to help assist the victims.
The seasonal market, which is about the size of a soccer field, was a major attraction during the December holidays, when Mexicans light firecrackers to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe, Christmas, and New Years.
The market was authorized by Mexico’s Ministry of Defense to sell fireworks. That made it a hub for fireworks sales. Last year the Mayor of Tultepec estimated the market sold 100 tons of fireworks for the December celebrations. The director of the Mexican Pyrotechnics Institute called San Pablito “the safest pyrotechnics market in Latin America.”
Local authorities have had a hard time banning the sale of illegal fireworks that fail to comply with safety norms established by Mexican law.
Mexico City authorities have seized 25 tons of illegal fireworks this year alone. On Tuesday, police confiscated 2 tons of fireworks in the San Ciprian market, in the heart of Mexico City, as part of a larger operation.
The San Pablito explosion is perhaps the most deadly ever, but similar incidents have happened in the past. In 2005 an explosion was set off in the same market leaving 57 injured. And subsequent explosions over the next two seasons wiped out entire market stands.