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Fireworks Blast in Mexico City Kills 51

December 12, 1988|Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — At least 51 people were killed when illegal fireworks exploded in a crowded street market Sunday, starting a fire that spread to several nearby buildings.

"We'll be searching all night. They're still finding bodies," said Salvador Padillo, the Red Cross commander at the scene.

He said 51 people were known dead and that at least 45 people were injured. But an official on duty at Red Cross headquarters said the number of injured was 83.

The first explosion apparently occurred in one of the Merced market stalls set up in a narrow street jammed with holiday shoppers, said Red Cross worker Jorge Torres San Juan.

Spread to Shops

Fire spread to a two-story building of candy stores and fireworks shops, where fireworks also were stored, and to a building of candy shops next door.

"They can't get inside the storerooms, but they are full of bodies," Roberto Castanon Romo, city director of medical services said. "You can no longer talk of survivors."

A city official, Jesus Sandoval, said the fireworks were being sold illegally.

"Here it's all clandestine," added Rutilo Ayala, a police officer at the scene.

The street was crowded with people buying fireworks for the celebration of the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe today.

One witness said the explosion began with a single crate of fireworks near the end of the street. Mario Roberto Andrade, who lives next to one of the buildings that caught fire, said other boxes of fireworks kept exploding down the line.

After the explosions began, hundreds of people streamed from one building screaming, "Get out, get out," said Fernando Dominguez, who was working in shoe store less than 100 feet away.

Sounded Like Bullets

"At first it sounded like bullets. Then there were more and more, and then the explosion," Dominguez said.

Windows shattered throughout the block. Spent Chinese firecrackers, charred wood and comic books, twisted metal and tangles of high tension wires littered the street hours after the explosion.

By late in the day, most of the blazes were contained.

For years, the Merced was the main market in this city of 18 million, supplying dozens of other markets and individual customers.

A new main market was built on the edge of the city in 1982, but the Merced remains important because of tradition and its location about half a mile from the main Zocalo Plaza in a densely populated area.

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