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5 Die in Mexico Fireworks Accident

October 19, 1999

NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico (AP) _ An explosion in a candy store illegally selling fireworks killed at least five people Monday in the border city of Nuevo Laredo _ the country’s second fatal fireworks accident in a month.

The explosion occurred in the late afternoon in the residential neighborhood of Colonial Mirador in the western part of the city, across the border from Laredo, Texas. It could be heard miles away.

Huge chunks of concrete flew in the air, destroying two homes and damaging several others. Small explosions of fireworks and gunpowder continued after the blast. An undetermined number of people were injured.

``We were in the house when we heard a strong explosion, and we felt as if we had been pushed to the floor,″ said Patricia Diaz, who lives on the same street.

The blast follows a Sept. 26 explosion at a candy store that also sold fireworks illegally in Celaya, 120 miles northeast of Mexico City. It killed 63 people and injured hundreds.

After the explosion, federal officials said they would crack down on shops illegally storing and selling fireworks, which are a traditional part of Mexican celebrations.

The precise number of deaths in Monday’s explosion was difficult to determine because the victims’ bodies were ripped apart by the blast, some propelled as far as 165 feet.

``We don’t know how much gunpowder exploded, but I’m sure it was more than 440 pounds,″ said a local security official, Guillermo Ramos.

It was not known what set off the explosion.

The owner of the shop, Fermin Huerta, who was near the store at the time of the explosion, suffered an arm injury and was arrested pending the investigation, said Ramiro Tellez, director of civil protection. Neighbors said he had sold fireworks from the store for 22 years.

Firefighters and paramedics from Laredo, Texas, assisted in putting out the fire and treating the injured.

Last month’s explosion was believed to have been caused by four tons of fireworks and gunpowder stored illegally in a shop in the town market. The shop owner died.

Thirteen people have been arrested in that explosion, including five business inspectors accused of illegally granting fireworks permits to store owners.

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