Gas explosion kills 26 in Mexico


An explosion and fire killed at least 26 people at a Pemex natural gas facility in northern Mexico near the US border yesterday.

Television footage showed flames leaping high into the sky during the blaze at a gas compression station near the city of Reynosa, a key entry point for natural gas to Mexico from the United States.

It was the third blaze in about five weeks at state-run oil monopoly Pemex installations in Tamaulipas, a border state that has struggled to contain the menace of warring drug gangs. Pemex's top executive said the fire appeared to be an accident.

Parts of the plant were reduced to a mangled wreckage of twisted, charred tubing, the earth beneath scorched black. Soldiers stood guard with assault rifles at the entrance.

Victor Barrera, a local subcontractor at the plant, said he was about 30m away when a pipeline exploded. "A friend just told me around 40 people who were working on the tank were burned when there was a sudden explosion. I didn't even have time to turn around, what I did was run to save myself," said Mr Barrera.

Pemex said it was still investigating after firefighters brought it under control yesterday afternoon. "There is no evidence that the explosion was provoked, but rather that it was an accident," Pemex chief executive Juan Jose Suarez Coppel told reporters after touring the site.

Illegal tapping of pipelines, often by criminal gangs, has cost Mexico hundreds of millions of dollars and sparked other major fires in the past.

Four of those killed yesterday were Pemex staff, and the other 22 were contract workers, the company said. Seven workers were still missing, while 28 people were hospitalised, two in serious condition, Pemex said.