Blast at petrochemical plant in Mexico kills 13

Toxic smoke from the petrochemical plant in Coatzacoalcos has led to the evacuation of about 2,000 residents in the area.
Toxic smoke from the petrochemical plant in Coatzacoalcos has led to the evacuation of about 2,000 residents in the area.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MEXICO • A massive explosion at a petrochemical plant in south-eastern Mexico killed at least 13 people and injured 136, sparking panic as it generated a huge plume of toxic smoke, officials said.

The mid-afternoon blast on Wednesday at the plant in the city of Coatzacoalcos was felt from as far as 10km away and forced the evacuation of nearby schools and businesses.

The cause of the fire at the Petroquimica Mexicana de Vinilo (Pemex) plant was still under investigation, with initial clues suggesting there was a "leak of flammable compounds", said Mr Jose Antonio Gonzalez, chief executive of state-run energy giant Pemex that jointly owns the facility.

Mr Gonzalez warned that there could be more casualties.

"It is very possible that the numbers will go up," he told Televisa.

The number of injured rose steadily to 136 as the extent of the blast became known, with 88 still hospitalised late on Wednesday, said Mr Gonzalez, who was sent to Coatzacoalcos by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Thirteen people were in serious condition, while 48 with minor injuries have already been sent home.

A "cloud of toxic chemicals" spewed from the plant following the explosion, with video footage from the scene showing thick smoke billowing from the facility.

Some 100 plant workers and about 2,000 residents had to be evacuated, according to Veracruz governor Javier Duarte.

Pemex said in the late afternoon that the situation was "completely under control", but as night fell, residents were still trying to get over the shock. "I left my house running. I thought the whole city was going to catch fire," said resident Marcela Andrade Moreno, whose windows were shattered by the blast.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 22, 2016, with the headline 'Blast at petrochemical plant in Mexico kills 13'. Print Edition | Subscribe