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Ten Die in Mexico Gunpowder Blast

October 13, 1998

TULTEPEC, Mexico (AP) _ A gas explosion set off a pile of gunpowder used to make illegal fireworks Tuesday, obliterating a two-block area of this central Mexican town, killing at least 10 people and wounding dozens.

Rescuers said they expected to find more bodies as they picked through the collapsed houses in Tultepec, a town 20 miles north of Mexico City known for its homemade fireworks.

Angry residents, apparently fearful that the explosion would lead to a crackdown on illegal fireworks, blocked journalists trying to enter the affected area. They said a minor gas explosion had occurred and that there was nothing to see.

But the smell of gunpowder was strong, and television images taken from a helicopter showed a two-block section of town entirely leveled by the blast.

Many blocks away, shattered glass still covered the street and people who live as far as three miles away reported hearing the blast. A crater indicated the site of the explosion.

``It was like a bomb,″ said Alejandro Garcia, a 33-year-old local businessman who lives six blocks away.

Dozens of soldiers filed through the area, assault rifles drawn. Neighbors, firefighters and paramedics picked through collapsed houses, looking for survivors and bodies.

Mexico state Gov. Cesar Camacho Quiroz said at least 10 people died _ including a 10-year-old boy _ and 27 were hurt. But a paramedic at the scene, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity, said he had counted 14 bodies, and that at least 45 people were injured.

Gen. Francisco Fernandez Solis, general director of public safety, gave the death toll at 10 but said: ``we expect to find more when we clear the rubble.″

He confirmed that the explosion was of gunpowder.

``The explosion was started by a gas tank leak,″ he said. The tank exploded and set off a large pile of gunpowder.

Mexico’s largest television network, Televisa, interrupted its regular programing to broadcast live from Tultepec for at least four hours without interruption.

Many residents in Tultepec produce fireworks illegally in their homes. Residents said the explosion occurred in the main gunpowder stockpile for all of the fireworks factories in the area.

In June 1997, an explosion in a Tultepec home producing illegal fireworks killed three people. And in December 1988, a Mexico City marketplace where illegal fireworks were sold exploded and set off a string of fires, killing 62 people and injuring 83.

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