TULTEPEC (Mexico) • A series of massive, multicolour explosions have destroyed a fireworks market outside the Mexican capital, killing at least 31 people, injuring dozens and leaving the market a charred wasteland.
Television images showed a flurry of pyrotechnics exploding into the early afternoon sky as a giant plume of smoke rose above the market on Tuesday afternoon.
Fireworks detonated in a peal of clattering bursts reminiscent of a war zone. It was the third time in just over a decade that explosions have hit the popular San Pablito marketplace in Tultepec, about 32km north of Mexico City.
The detonations struck in the run-up to the busy Christmas holiday, when many Mexicans stock up on fireworks.
"The earth moved," said Ms Angelica Coss, a 25-year-old resident who lives just streets away from the market. "It felt like a plane had crashed, like bombs were being dropped."
"You just heard the blast. And everything started to be on fire. People came running out on fire," Mr Walter Garduno said. "People were alight - children," he added before trailing off.
Some 13 children suffered burns to more than 90 per cent of their bodies and were sent to the US city of Galveston in Texas for treatment, said Mr Eruviel Avila, governor of the State of Mexico, in which Tultepec is located.
He vowed to find and punish those responsible and to provide economic assistance to those who had lost their livelihoods.
The federal Attorney-General's office opened an investigation, saying in a statement that six separate blasts caused the destruction.
Mr Isidro Sanchez, head of Tultepec emergency services, said earlier that a lack of safety measures was the likely cause of the blasts.
The federal police said a forensic team had been sent to investigate and that at least 70 people had been injured.
First responders were initially stymied by the continuous blasts going off in different parts of the market, spread over 4ha next to a traffic intersection. One of the first to dive into the disaster zone was Mr Victor Hugo Samantes, whose relatives worked in some of the market stalls. They all managed to escape.
"It's incredible because you're used to seeing everything happening, people working, manning their stalls," he said, a mask covering his mouth. "And now, to see it like this..."
More than 80 per cent of the 300 stalls at the market were destroyed, said state official Jose Manzur. Mexican media reported there were 300,000kg of fireworks in the market at the time of the explosions.
The blasts were the latest in a long-running series of fatal explosions and industrial accidents that have rocked Mexico's oil, gas and petrochemical industries.
"I offer my condolences to the relatives of those who lost their lives in this accident and my wishes for a speedy recovery for the injured," President Enrique Pena Nieto said in a tweet.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE