Mexico worked to identify charred bodies left by an explosion that killed at least 32 people at its biggest fireworks market, as authorities investigated what caused the multi-colored salvo of destruction. Rescue workers were still searching for bodies — or survivors — in the smoldering wreckage of the San Pablito market in the Mexico City suburb of Tultepec.
Dazed family members wandered outside the tightly guarded blast site, seeking information on their relatives. Concepcion Hernandez said she had no news from her mother, 65, and brother, 29, since the Tuesday afternoon explosion. “They came to buy fireworks for their store. It was their first time here,” she said through tears. “We don’t know anything.” Another family was looking for two missing children whose mother and grandmother were killed in the explosion.
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At the time of the blast, the market was packed with customers buying pyrotechnics for traditional year-end festivities. Christmas and New Year parties in many Latin American countries often wrap up with a fireworks free-for-all. But the holiday season took a horrific turn. “I thought we were all going to die,” said Luis Hernandez, 26, at the shop where he has assembled fireworks for the past 12 years. “People were running. Children were shouting. Lots of burned people were walking around, not knowing what to do. And we didn’t know what to do either, because we were afraid the explosions would start again.”
Other survivors described hellish scenes of people on fire, including children, running from the market as blue, red and white explosions lit up the sky. Homes and vehicles nearby were also severely damaged. “I thought my house had collapsed,” said resident Artemio Aguilar as he cleaned up firework remains littering his street.
The remnants of the market looked like something from a post-apocalyptic film, with little left standing in the smoldering ruins. Hundreds of soldiers and police guarded the entrances, the main one still crowned with a giant sign reading “Visit! Open all year. We have full safety measures.”
Forensic experts are carrying out DNA testing to identify the badly burned remains, with just 14 victims identified so far, said state government secretary Jose Manzur. Eight victims were minors, officials said. Forty-seven people injured in the explosion remained hospitalised, many with severe burns covering their bodies. Three badly burned children were due to be transferred to a specialised hospital in Galveston, Texas.
President Enrique Pena Nieto observed a minute of silence for the victims during a visit to a hospital in central Mexico.