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At least 25 die in blast at Pemex tower

The explosion at the state-run oil company complex in Mexico City injures dozens.

February 01, 2013|Tracy Wilkinson and Cecilia Sanchez
  • Rescuers search for survivors after an explosion rocks the headquarters of Pemex, Mexico's state oil giant, in Mexico City.
Rescuers search for survivors after an explosion rocks the headquarters… (Guillermo Gutierrez, Associated…)

MEXICO CITY — A powerful explosion Thursday rocked one of Mexico City's tallest skyscrapers, a tower that houses the state oil giant, killing at least 25 people and injuring dozens, a top official said.

Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said the cause of the blast, which heavily damaged the first two floors of an administrative building next to the 54-story tower, was under investigation. The complex is the headquarters of Petroleos de Mexico, or Pemex, the troubled but powerful state oil monopoly.

Osorio Chong said 17 women and eight men were killed in the blast that apparently occurred in a basement garage, and more than 100 people were being treated in hospitals.

Rescue dogs were being used to search for victims trapped in the debris. A ceiling in the basement collapsed and may have buried an unknown number of employees, Osorio Chong said. At least one person was dug out, alive, more than five hours after the blast, as rescuers working under floodlights picked through tangled mounds of concrete and metal late into the night.

In the minutes after the midafternoon explosion, smoke shrouded the tower as ambulances and medevac helicopters arrived at the scene. Top federal and city government officials also hurried to the chaotic site. As darkness fell, President Enrique Pena Nieto arrived to "personally direct rescue operations," he said via Twitter.

"I was working in my office and suddenly there was an explosion and glass and pieces of concrete began falling," one unidentified employee told Milenio Television. "I hope my coworkers are OK."

"A really strong explosion and then the glass started raining down," another employee said. "There were lots of screams."

Numerous people were reported trapped in elevators for long periods.

More than 3,500 people were reported evacuated from the complex, west of downtown Mexico City. Employees were being wheeled out on stretchers and even office chairs. Streets in the area were closed.

Rescue workers included Mexico's famed topos, hard-hatted teams of searchers deployed in the country's many devastating earthquakes and who also joined recovery operations in New York after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Earlier, Interior Ministry spokesman Eduardo Sanchez said the tower was not in danger of collapsing. Media speculation on the causes of the blast focused on gas leaks or faulty mechanical equipment in the basement, but Osorio Chong cautioned against premature explanations.

"We cannot yet explain the motives," he said, adding that investigators would be focusing on the basement area.

He did not comment on whether violent drug traffickers who have been fighting authorities for more than six years might be involved. Some Pemex installations have been targets.

Traffickers have intercepted and stolen large quantities of oil and gas that Pemex pumps out of fields in the gulf states of Tamaulipas and Veracruz. Cartel hit men have also kidnapped Pemex workers in those areas. But a direct attack on the company's headquarters is unheard of.

Pemex has been in the news recently because Pena Nieto's government, which took office Dec. 1, is pushing reforms that would open the state monopoly to private and foreign investment.

--

wilkinson@latimes.com

Sanchez is a news assistant in The Times' Mexico City bureau.

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