Dozens Killed As Explosion Rips Through Fireworks Market Near Mexico City

Dec 20, 2016
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

News today of a massive explosion at a major fireworks marketplace just north of Mexico City. The governor of the State in Mexico (ph) says at least 29 people were killed, and many more people have been injured. NPR's Carrie Kahn joins us now from Mexico City. And Carrie, what can you tell us about what happened today?

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Shortly before 3 in the afternoon, there was this huge explosion in the town. It just - it rocked homes and businesses in the area. And these - and it just set off a chain reaction through this market that sells fireworks. The detonations continued. It sent up this impressive, thick cloud of smoke that rose a mile into the sky and could be seen for miles around. A motorist driving by posted to Facebook a video of the scene. You can hear some of the detonations.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIONS)

KAHN: The detonations that you hear in that - they continued - I heard some reports - as long as 12 minutes. It just set off this chain reaction through this market and - according to some reports. The scene also after that sounded just chaotic 'cause there was this thick smoke. And people were just running from the scene. And the injured suffered severe burns. There were also some injured in the trampling of trying to get out of this market.

SHAPIRO: Can you tell us more about the market and the town where it's located?

KAHN: Sure. This town is in the State of Mexico, which is the largest, most populace state that surrounds Mexico City. And this market is supposedly the largest fireworks market in Latin America. There are 300 stalls that have permission from the secretary of defense to set up shop there and sell fireworks.

In this whole town of Tepic, 90 percent of the people that supposedly - reportedly work in that town work in the fireworks industry. So this is what this town is about. And 80 percent of fireworks sold throughout the country go through that town are stored in warehouses and sold in that marketplace, which is just immense.

And the photos and the scenes from the area is just the - the devastation is immense. Some of these stalls are just leveled, burned out. You see others that are twisted, and it's just a large area. It just seems like a terribly chaotic situation that's happening right there.

SHAPIRO: What can you tell us about rescue and recovery efforts now?

KAHN: Well, the governor of the State of Mexico gave a press conference this evening. He said that 26 people died at the scene, and three more died in area hospitals. But those numbers are very fluid. We heard a lot of different numbers. When it was first reported, we heard that there were 19 dead, then all the sudden - 9 dead - I'm sorry. And then all the sudden it rose to 26. And so there may be more fatalities.

Many of the people were severely burned over their bodied. Many are in critical conditions, and they've been helicoptering them and taking them to area hospitals and taking them - flying them into Mexico City. And I heard one report that some of the critical are even being flown as far away as Texas for help in burn centers.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City - thank you, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.