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Chlorine Plant Explodes in Southern Mexico; 3 Dead, Hundreds Injured

March 12, 1991

COATZACOALCOS, Mexico (AP) _ Pipes exploded in a petrochemical plant near this southern city on Monday, shaking nearby buildings and shooting flames 100 feet high, authorities said. At least three workers were killed and 350 people were injured.

The newspaper El Diario del Istmo said only twisted pipes and charred scraps of metal were left on the site in Pajaritos, near the Gulf Coast city of Coatzacoalcos, 300 miles southeast of Mexico City.

A chlorine plant at the facility was out of service for maintenance on Monday. It was not immediately known if any of the toxic chemical was spread. ″At first people thought it was an earthquake,″ said Cira Ines Jimenez Martinez, a social worker at a hospital in Nachitlan, a few miles from the plant. ″The second one was stronger and everyone panicked.″

The government oil monopoly Petroleos Mexicanos, S.A., or Pemex, said three workers died in the explosion and fire.

It was not immediately know how many people were inside the plant when the explosions occurred.

Reporter Maria Elvira Santa Maria said the blasts ″shook the whole″ surrounding area of 321,000 people.

″Afterwards a tremendous mushroom cloud was seen,″ she said.

Pemex spokeswoman Vania Munoz said fire broke out in an area where crude oil is heated to make petrochemicals. She said it had not yet been determined how the employees died.

The company reported 122 people injured, but tallies at nearby hospitals suggested a much higher injury toll.

A staff member at the Pemex clinic in Coatzacoalcos said about 200 people were treated there. The Nachitlan hospital treated 103.

Manuel Avila y Avila, the Red Cross chief in Coatzacoalcos, said 30 people were taken to the Social Security Hospital there, and 13 others were treated and released by the Red Cross.

Most of the injuries were cuts and bruises, he said.

El Diario del Istmo said most of the victims at area hospitals and clinics were released by Monday night, but at least three remained in serious condition.

A Pemex statement said the first explosion occurred at 8:40 a.m. (9:40 a.m. EST).

Pemex Directo Francisco Rojas said investigators from Pemex and the federal prosecutor’s office were looking into the accident, the newspaper reported.

Five schools were evacuated and telephone and electricity was out in parts of the city, the independent Excelsior news service said.

The army cordoned off the area and firefighting crews from other plants were brought in, Pemex said. It said the flames were brought under control about noon.

Veracruz Gov. Dante Delgado inspected the scene by helicopter, El Diario del Istmo said.

Update hourly