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Fuel Tank Explosions Shake Mexico City; At Least 12 Injured

November 12, 1996

SAN JUAN IXHUATEPEC, Mexico (AP) _ Firefighters struggled against shifting winds today to extinguish flames at a fuel storage complex where two oil tanks exploded, injuring 12 people and sending a huge tower of smoke into the air.

Monday’s blasts, blamed on a faulty valve, sent at least 12 people to hospitals. The Red Cross said around 900 others received first aid, many for smoke inhalation.

The tanks were part of a collection of oil and gas installations in this Mexico City suburb where one of the world’s worst gas explosions occurred _ a 1984 blast that killed 452 people and injured nearly 4,250.

Federal environment experts and the facility owner, Petroleos Mexicanos _ the government oil monopoly known as Pemex _ promised a thorough investigation of the latest accident.

Pemex Director Adrian Lajous, in a radio interview, said firefighters were expected to have the fire out later today. He said hundreds of trucks had been sent to drain the oil from three unexploded tanks nearby.

Humberto Lira Mora, director of administration at Pemex, said a faulty valve apparently had caused a tank spill and triggered the initial explosion Monday afternoon.

Soon after, a second tank at the six-tank complex caught fire and exploded. Winds then shifted and caused flames to engulf a third gasoline tank shortly before midnight.

Smoke rose 3,600 feet into the air and could be seen at least eight miles away, accompanied by huge flames.

Firefighters and Red Cross ambulances rushed to the scene, snarling traffic for hours. About 300 police from Mexico City and neighboring Mexico state cordoned off the area.

Around 2,400 residents evacuated their homes. Several hundred spent the night at a soccer stadium on the city’s north side.

Some resident complained in television interviews today that they spent the night without blankets as temperatures dipped to 45 degrees, and had been given only coffee and cookies to eat.

Environmentalists warned that smog could reach high levels today. The Mexico City metropolitan area, with a population of 20 million, is already one of the world’s smoggiest cities.

Dr. Eduardo Palazuelos, chairman of the Valley of Mexico Environmental Protection Commission, ordered schools to cancel outdoor exercise today, and advised people to drink lots of liquids and keep doors and windows closed.

On Nov. 19, 1984, a series of liquid gas explosions ripped through a Pemex tank farm in the same complex.

Pemex paid more than $4 million in compensation to 2,100 people who lost property, were injured or lost family members. The state government paid about $3.7 million to rebuild the suburb of 200,000 people and to compensate victims.

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