Blast at Mexican gas facility kills 26, seven still missing

September 20th, 2012 - 1:28 am ICT by BNO News  

REYNOSA, MEXICO (BNO NEWS) — At least 26 people were killed Tuesday and seven others remain missing after a huge blaze erupted at a Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) natural gas facility in northern Mexico, the state-owned oil company said on Wednesday. The scene is close to the U.S. border.

The incident began at around 10:45 a.m. local time on Tuesday when an explosion occurred at a gas plant operated by Pemex at the kilometer 19 mark on the Reynosa-Monterrey highway in the state of Tamaulipas. The plant receives gas from the Burgos region in Mexico and distributes the product to the company’s gas and petrochemicals unit.

“The company immediately put its emergency response plan into operation and proceeded to close the valves that transport gas, while Pemex fire units and state and local firefighters arrived at the scene,” a Pemex spokesperson said. The fire was extinguished at about 12:40 p.m. local time, about two hours after the initial explosion.

The oil company confirmed 26 people, four of them Pemex employees and 22 workers from contractors, were killed in the explosion and fire. Another 28 people remained hospitalized on Wednesday, including seven Pemex workers and 21 contractors. One Pemex employee and one contractor remained in a serious condition.

The victims were transported by rescue workers to local hospitals in Reynosa, which borders the city of Hidalgo in the U.S. state of Texas. Mexican authorities fear the death toll will increase because seven people are still missing, but their identities were not immediately released.

President Felipe Calderón expressed his sadness over the loss of life and said the federal government will support the relatives of those killed as well as those injured. “I must say thanks for the timely intervention of oil workers, firefighters, and the Mexican Army which contained the fire in a relatively short time and avoided a catastrophe with even greater damage if the fire had spread through the facility,” he said during a news conference on Wednesday.

Calderón also said he has ordered a “very thorough investigation” to determine the causes of the explosion. “I have instructed the Attorney General’s Office to participate in this investigation because we want to know exactly what happened and, most of all, because this is key to prevent a repeat of such tragedies,” he said.

Pemex said the explosion appeared to have been caused by an accidental leak and officials denied rumors that it was the result of sabotage. About 700 people were working at the plant at the time of the blast and a number of people living within a 5 kilometer (3.1 mile) radius were briefly evacuated as a precaution.

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