September 15, 2005

Huge firework blast rattles Mexican town

By Greg Brosnan

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A series of explosions ripped
through a Mexican fireworks market on Thursday, sending a huge
column of smoke into the air and scaring residents but a
large-scale tragedy was avoided.

The blasts, lasting for two hours, reduced the market in
the town of Tultepec, west of the capital, to a charred ruin.

"It just got bigger and bigger, fireworks, fireworks,"
sobbed a man on the scene, interviewed on the radio while
searching for two missing brothers.

Civil protection workers said around 100 people were
affected by the blasts, either slightly injured or in a state
of shock.

Hospital officials could not confirm reports that several
people had died in the explosions, which came as Mexicans
stocked up on fireworks for independence day celebrations on
Thursday night.

Stall holders and shoppers at the market managed to escape
through well signaled exits when the first blasts hit, state
civil protection head Roberto Vazquez told Reuters.

Thick white smoke billowed a kilometer (0.6 miles) into the
sky over the town, one of the main centers of firework
production in Mexico.

Television footage from a helicopter showed a charred,
smoldering area the size of a football pitch where emergency
workers fought sporadic fires.

People scrambled to move wreckage amid hundreds of stalls
burned to the ground and the charred wrecks of cars.

A radio reporter described people fleeing the scene with
burns. Exploding fireworks could be heard in the background.

The blasts came celebrations began for the September 15
independence day, when Mexicans fire often poorly-made
fireworks into the air.

Village fiestas and national holidays in Mexico rarely go
by without the sound of rockets and bangers going off.

Fireworks are sold by the tens of thousands in
mid-September, many in informal markets not controlled by

Twenty-eight people died after a blast at a street market
selling fireworks in the coastal city of Veracruz on New Year's
Eve, 2002.