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World

Death Toll Rises To 31 In Mexico Fireworks Market Explosion

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Near Mexico City, rescue workers are still searching for the remains of people killed by explosions and fire at a large fireworks market yesterday. Officials say at least 32 people have been killed. At least another 40 have been hospitalized. This happened at a sprawling market in the town of Tultepec. It's a place known for the production of fireworks. Sadly, it is also known for tragedies involving fireworks.

NPR's Carrie Kahn is there and joins us. Carrie, what are you seeing?

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Well, they have been restricting people to about a three-mile radius cordon out there because they just said the situation was still dangerous. But I got to the gate of the outdoor market where the explosion was yesterday, and it's just teeming with police and investigators pouring through the rubble.

Only a few walls of a few stalls are still standing, and those are just the ones on the periphery. And there's burned-out cars all around the market. The rest of the inside of the market is all blackened and with ash and twisted metal everywhere.

And, Ari, you just get the sense of how powerful this explosion was. It tore through the center of this market which was - is made of these cinderblock stalls. And there are just chunks of the blocks everywhere. They flew through the air with pieces of twisted metal from the rooves. I saw some of those chunks all the way across the street down the street. It was amazing.

SHAPIRO: This was such a large market. So many people in the town worked there. How is the town handling this tragedy?

KAHN: This town is firework central for all of Mexico. This town makes and sells most of the fireworks of the country, and so people - everybody is feeling this. It's on the outskirts of Mexico City, and it's very poor and arid, and there's no industry here. And this town's lifeblood is fireworks.

Everyone keep saying that 80 percent of the population here works in this industry either selling or making them. And I really got a sense of that by just talking to people here. Everybody had a relative, a cousin, brother-in-law, father working in the industry.

And I talked to this one woman who showed up because she was handing out water and sandwiches to first aid responders and police. She said her dad went to work today in the little factories where they make the fireworks out on the outskirts of this town because that's what he does, and that's what he has to do. He went to work today.

SHAPIRO: Workplace safety is important everywhere but particularly so at a fireworks market. And this is a market that has had a history of terrible incidents. Haven't authorities tried to address this in the past?

KAHN: It's just incredible. This is the third large explosion at this market. The other two were about a decade ago. And while in those explosions a lot of people were injured - but in both of those, there were no deaths. That was what was very interesting. Why this one was so deadly people are trying to get to the bottom of.

But the market was remodeled back after those incidents, and they changed the stalls to these cinderblocks and put more space between them. They said they did that for safety precautions to avert some sort of chain reaction scenario that apparently took place yesterday.

And there was even this official from the agency that oversees safety for this industry. He actually went through the market eight days ago - just eight days ago - and said it was the safest in all of Latin America. So there are many questions to be answered - why it started and why there weren't the proper safeguards there in place.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn in the town of Tultepec, Mexico, where the explosion took place yesterday at the fireworks market. Thank you, Carrie.

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