Mexico fireworks market blasts kill at least 31, injure scores

TULTEPEC, Mexico, Dec 20 (Reuters) - A series of massive explosions destroyed a fireworks market outside the Mexican capital on Tuesday, killing at least 31 people, injuring dozens and leaving the market a charred wasteland.

Television images showed a flurry of multicolored pyrotechnics exploding into the early afternoon sky as a giant plume of smoke rose above the market. 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 20 miles (32 km) north of Mexico City. The detonations struck in the run-up to the busy Christmas holiday, when many Mexicans stock up on fireworks.


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Deadly explosion at Mexico fireworks market

A massive explosion guts Mexico's biggest fireworks market in Mexico City, on December 20, 2016. The explosion killed at least 31 people and injured 72, authorities said. The conflagration in the Mexico City suburb of Tultepec set off a quick-fire series of multicolored blasts that sent a vast cloud of smoke billowing over the capital.

(JOSE LUIS TOLENTINO/AFP/Getty Images)

#BREAKINGNEWS 60 injured as explosion rips through open-air fireworks market in Tultepec, Mexico… https://t.co/zXR7qKzemj

Aerial view of Mexico's biggest fireworks market in Tultepec suburb, Mexico State, after a massive explosion on the eve killed at least 32 people, on December 21, 2016. Mexico worked Wednesday to identify charred bodies left by an explosion at its biggest fireworks market, as authorities investigated what caused the multi-colored salvo of destruction. Forensic experts are carrying out genetic analyses to identify the badly burned remains from Tuesday's blast, with just 13 victims identified so far, said state prosecutor Alejandro Gomez.

(MARIO VAZQUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

A massive explosion guts Mexico's biggest fireworks market in Tultepec on December 20, 2016 killing at least 31 people. The explosion killed at least 31 people and injured 72, authorities said. The conflagration in the Mexico City suburb of Tultepec set off a quick-fire series of multicolored blasts that sent a vast cloud of smoke billowing over the capital.

(JOSUE SOLANO/AFP/Getty Images)

Police officers stand guard on December 21, 2016 at Mexico's biggest fireworks market in Tultepec after a massive explosion killed at least 31 people on the eve. The explosion killed at least 31 people and injured 72, authorities said. The conflagration in the Mexico City suburb of Tultepec set off a quick-fire series of multicolored blasts that sent a vast cloud of smoke billowing over the capital.

(PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images)

A damaged car is seen at the disaster site after an explosion at a firework market in Tultepec, Mexico on December 21, 2016. At least 29 people were killed Tuesday when an explosion occurred at a fireworks market in a suburb of Mexico City, authorities said.

(Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

People douse the embers amid the debris left by a huge blast that occured in a fireworks market in Mexico City, on December 20, 2016 killing at least 25 people and injuring dozens. The conflagration, in the suburb of Tultepec, set off a quickfire series of multicolored blasts and a vast amount of smoke that hung over Mexico City.

(RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

Aerial view of Mexico's biggest fireworks market in Tultepec suburb, Mexico State, after a massive explosion on the eve killed at least 32 people, on December 21, 2016. Mexico worked Wednesday to identify charred bodies left by an explosion at its biggest fireworks market, as authorities investigated what caused the multi-colored salvo of destruction. Forensic experts are carrying out genetic analyses to identify the badly burned remains from Tuesday's blast, with just 13 victims identified so far, said state prosecutor Alejandro Gomez.

(MARIO VAZQUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Juan Carlos Alcala holds a photograph of his son Juan Antonio, who he is being searched for after an explosion at a fireworks market, outside the Forensic Medical Service (SEMEFO) in Tlalnepantla, Mexico December 21, 2016.

(REUTERS/Ginnette Riquelme)

A massive explosion guts Mexico's biggest fireworks market in Tultepec, on December 20, 2016. The explosion killed at least 31 people and injured 72, authorities said. The conflagration in the Mexico City suburb of Tultepec set off a quick-fire series of multicolored blasts that sent a vast cloud of smoke billowing over the capital.

(ISRAEL GUTIERREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Security forces arrive on December 21, 2016 at Mexico's biggest fireworks market in Tultepec after a massive explosion killed at least 31 people on the eve. The explosion killed at least 31 people and injured 72, authorities said. The conflagration in the Mexico City suburb of Tultepec set off a quick-fire series of multicolored blasts that sent a vast cloud of smoke billowing over the capital.

(PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images)

A massive explosion guts Mexico's biggest fireworks market in Mexico City, on December 20, 2016. The explosion killed at least 31 people and injured 72, authorities said. The conflagration in the Mexico City suburb of Tultepec set off a quick-fire series of multicolored blasts that sent a vast cloud of smoke billowing over the capital.

(JOSUE SOLANO/AFP/Getty Images)

Forensic experts inspect the disaster site after an explosion at a firework market in Tultepec, Mexico on December 21, 2016. At least 29 people were killed Tuesday when an explosion occurred at a fireworks market in a suburb of Mexico City, authorities said.

(Manuel Velasquez/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Concepcion Baez shows a picture of her relatives Eva Baez and Jazmani Gonzalez, as she asks for information on December 21, 2016 at Mexico's biggest fireworks market in Mexico City's Tultepec suburb after a massive explosion killed at least 31 people on the eve. Thirty one people are known to have died in the Tuesday blast. Forensic experts are working on genetic analyses of the bodies because nearly all are impossible to identify. Rescue workers were still searching for bodies -- or survivors -- in the smoldering wreckage of the market in the Mexico City suburb of Tultepec, which was packed with customers buying pyrotechnics for traditional end-of-year festivities.

(PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images)

A forensic expert inspects the disaster site after an explosion at a firework market in Tultepec, Mexico on December 21, 2016. At least 29 people were killed Tuesday when an explosion occurred at a fireworks market in a suburb of Mexico City, authorities said.

(Manuel Velasquez/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Fire fighters put out smoldering embers amid the debris left by a huge blast that occured in a fireworks market in Mexico City, on December 20, 2016 killing at least 26 people and injuring scores. The conflagration, in the suburb of Tultepec, set off a quickfire series of multicolored blasts and a vast amount of smoke that hung over Mexico City.

(ISRAEL GUTIERREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Firefighters work amid the debris left by a huge blast that occured in a fireworks market in Mexico City on December 20, 2016 killing at least nine people and injuring 70, according to police. The conflagration, in the suburb of Tultepec, set off a quickfire series of multicolored blasts and a vast amount of smoke that hung over Mexico City.

(RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

Relatives react while standing outside a hospital where victims of an explosion at the San Pablito fireworks market are being treated in Zumpango, Mexico December 21, 2016.

(REUTERS/Henry Romero)

Aerial view of Mexico's biggest fireworks market in Tultepec suburb, Mexico State, after a massive explosion on the eve killed at least 32 people. Mexico worked Wednesday to identify charred bodies left by an explosion at its biggest fireworks market, as authorities investigated what caused the multi-colored salvo of destruction. Forensic experts are carrying out genetic analyses to identify the badly burned remains from Tuesday's blast, with just 13 victims identified so far, said state prosecutor Alejandro Gomez.

(MARIO VAZQUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Rescuers search amid the debris left by a huge blast that occured in a fireworks market in Mexico City, on December 20, 2016 killing at least nine people and injuring 70, according to police. The conflagration, in the suburb of Tultepec, set off a quickfire series of multicolored blasts and a vast amount of smoke that hung over Mexico City.

(RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

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"People were crying everywhere and desperately running in all directions," said 20-year-old witness Cesar Carmona.

Some children suffered burns to more than 90 percent of their bodies and were being sent to the U.S. city of Galveston in Texas for treatment, said Eruviel Avila, the governor of the State ofMexico in which Tultepec is located.

He also 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.

Isidro Sanchez, the 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. Videos from the scene showed people frantically fleeing, while aerial footage revealed blackened stalls and a flattened tangle of metal and wood.

The state's top prosecutor raised the death toll late on Tuesday to 31, most of whom died at the market.

More than 80 percent of the 300 stalls at the market were destroyed by the explosions, said state official Jose Manzur.

He said the market was inspected by safety officials last month and no irregularities were found.

Mexican media reported there were 300 tonnes of fireworks at the market at the time of the explosions.

The head of a local pyrotechnics association told online publication Animal Politico last week that the fireworks market was the safest in Latin America, featuring "perfectly designed stalls" that could prevent any chain reaction in the event of a spark.

Federico Juarez was present when the first explosion rocked the market. "Everyone started running to escape as bricks and pieces of concrete fell everywhere," he said.

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.

A blast struck the Tultepec fireworks market in September 2005 just before independence day celebrations, injuring many people. Another detonation gutted the area again almost a year later.

"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.

Pena Nieto is the former governor of the State of Mexico, the country's largest, which surrounds the capital. (Reporting by David Alire Garcia, Lizbeth Diaz and Josue Gonzalez; Editing by Gabriel Stargardter, Lisa Shumaker and Paul Tait)

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