The death toll from a thunderous blast at a petrochemical plant in Mexico has risen to at least 13, an official said today, in the latest accident plaguing the state-run oil giant Pemex.
The toll could rise further as another 136 people were injured, 13 of them critically, in yesterday’s explosion, which sent up huge plumes of black, toxic smoke and triggered panic among locals fearing a repeat of a 1991 blast at the same plant that caused a deadly gas leak.
The new blast at the petrochemical plant in the city of Coatzacoalcos in eastern Veracruz state was so powerful it was felt 10 kilometres away. It shattered windows and forced the evacuation of schools and businesses. Crews kept working today to cool off one particularly hard hit area of the plant, hosing it down with water.
Investigators have yet to enter this area because of fears that structures might collapse, Luis Felipe Puente, a senior civil protection official within the state interior ministry, told Milenio television.
“We have searched the affected area within the complex, and sadly so far located 13 victims,” Puente wrote earlier on Twitter.
The blast at the Petroquimica Mexicana de Vinilo (PMV) plant was caused by some kind of leak, said Jose Antonio Gonzalez, chief executive of Pemex.
The plant “uses flammable materials like chlorine and ethanol but we do not know the cause of the leak,” told Televisa television. Pemex co-owns the plant with a private company, Mexichem, which operates the facility.
A cloud of toxic chemicals spewed from the plant following the explosion, with footage from the scene showing thick, black smoke billowing into the sky.
Some 100 plant workers and about 2,000 residents had to be evacuated, according to Veracruz governor Javier Duarte.
Duarte rushed to the scene of what he said was “a very strong explosion,” where fire crews had the blaze under control.
As the situation unfolded, he urged people living in the vicinity to remain indoors as the “cloud of chemicals” dissipated.
School classes in Coatzacoalcos, a port city, and nearby communities were suspended. Pemex said in the late afternoon yesterday that the situation was “completely under control.” Stores and homes in Coatzacoalcos had their windows blown out by the force of the blast.