MEXICO CITY: At least 22 people were killed and 40 injured Thursday when explosions ripped through several fireworks factories in a Mexican town that has a long history of deadly blasts.
The explosions occurred in Tultepec, a town in Mexico state known as the country’s pyrotechnic capital and the site of a blast that claimed 42 lives in 2016. Several manufacturers were killed Thursday, authorities said, along with at least four firefighters and two police officers who rushed to the scene to help.
In a rare step, a state official vowed to review the town’s fireworks industry to determine whether a temporary closure of some factories was necessary.
Alejandro Ozuna Rivero, a top Mexico state official, told Reforma newspaper that the state would conduct an “exhaustive review of all permits and the way they are being granted.”
Deadly explosions occur with regularity in Tultepec, where many residents earn a living fabricating and selling fireworks, an essential part of holiday celebrations in Mexico and across Latin America. In June, seven people were killed in an explosion in the town. The 2016 blast resulted in a massive fire in the town’s main fireworks market. Similar fires engulfed the same market in 2005 and 2006.
The deadly incidents have generated repeated calls for the market to be closed and the area’s fireworks industry to be more heavily regulated. But after the 2016 disaster, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto instead pledged to rebuild the market, this time with new safety measures in place. Before the 2016 explosion, Mexican authorities repeatedly praised the market as one of the safest fireworks bazaars in the world.
One reason the industry has continued in Tultepec is because many locals are determined to keep it. Across Mexico, the town is synonymous with fireworks. An estimated 80 per cent of the nation’s firecrackers are sold there, and it is the birthplace of several well-known pioneers in pyrotechnics. Each year producers compete for prizes during a weeklong fireworks festival.
Some producers say occasional deadly explosions are the price they must pay for steady jobs. Government data show that Mexicans continue to spend about $10 million(Dh36.7 million) each month on fireworks despite frequent and deadly accidents nationwide.
Last year, at least 14 people died and 30 were injured when an errant firecracker hit a cache of fireworks in Puebla state. In 2013, a rocket hit a truck loaded with fireworks bound for a religious procession in Tlaxcala state, killing 17.
Blasts triggered by fireworks killed 29 people in Veracruz state in 2002, 63 in Guanajuato state in 1999 and 68 in Mexico City in 1988.
Similar explosions have occurred across Latin America, where many religious festivals are marked by repeated blasts of firecrackers for days on end. In Lima, Peru, more than 250 people were killed in a 2001 explosion in the city’s biggest fireworks market.
Pena Nieto expressed sympathy on Twitter for the victims of the latest explosions.
“I deeply regret the loss of life in the explosion that occurred in Tultepec,” he wrote Thursday. “I send my condolences to the families of the deceased and I wish a quick recovery to those who were injured.”