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Fireworks Factory Near Mexico City Is Torn Apart By A Deadly Explosion


A powerful explosion ripped through an outdoor market selling fireworks in Mexico yesterday afternoon. This killed more than 30 people and injured more than 70. This is a place famous and infamous for fireworks - reportedly, the largest market for them in Latin America. But this is also not the first time there has been a deadly fire there. And let's hear the latest from NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City.

Carrie, good morning.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: Can you just describe this - the scene yesterday? It just sounds horrific.

KAHN: It was. It happened about - a little bit before 3 in the afternoon. There was this initial, huge explosion. And it rocked homes and businesses in the area. And then, these detonations in sort of a cascading chain reaction just continued. And one report I read went for as long as 12 minutes in this huge, thick plume of gray smoke rising in the air, getting bigger and bigger and just fire ripping through this huge marketplace.

The scene on the ground just sounded chaotic, with people running injured, suffering severe burns over their entire body. We've seen photos of people just burned - large parts of their bodies - and bystanders rushing in to get them and get them out of the market, helicopters and ambulances taking them to hospitals around the area and as far away as Mexico City and even out of the country to burn centers. And many people were injured in the stampede to get out of this market, which was just chock-full of fireworks and people in the run-up to Christmas and New Year, which is celebrated widely throughout Mexico with fireworks.

GREENE: And this place is so famous for fireworks. Most of the fireworks sold in the country come through this town. What is this place? Tell me about it.

KAHN: It's about 45 miles north of Mexico City. A large percentage of the people in the town work in the fireworks industry. As you said, such a large percentage of fireworks go through here. There's warehouses and this huge market. The mayor of the town said, unfortunately, this is our dangerous craft of the town. And this is what we do.

There's about 300 stalls in this huge marketplace that have the permission of the Defense Department to sell here. And there's probably more people selling there that didn't have permission. There's no word about what started. Federal officials have been called into the investigation. And the governor of the state of Mexico, where this town is located, vowed to find who is responsible for the devastation.

GREENE: Just the mayor there saying, it's our dangerous craft - how dangerous does it have to get before officials do something? This is not the first fire in this market.

KAHN: No, it's not. There was a devastating one about a decade ago and then the year following it. And reportedly, upgrades in safety precautions were put in place since then to prevent this sort of chain reaction that went through these stalls and just blew them out of there. But that's exactly what happened yesterday. So we've also heard of - this year, there were detonations and explosions at some of the nearby warehouses and several deaths from that.

You know, one headline in a major Mexico City newspaper read this morning that this time, it claimed 31 lives. Many of the injured were taken to so many hospitals outside of the area and in other states that officials had to set up an 800 phone bank last night so people can help find and locate their loved ones.

GREENE: No, but this time - I mean, the assumption being it might just happen again. OK, NPR's Carrie Kahn reporting from Mexico City.

Carrie, thanks.

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