Mexico blast kills at least 33, flagging Pemex safety woes

Fri Feb 1, 2013 5:20pm EST
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By Gabriel Stargardter and David Alire Garcia

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Rescue workers pulled out more bodies from debris at the headquarters of Mexican state oil giant Pemex on Friday after a powerful explosion killed at least 33 people and threw a spotlight onto the state-run company's poor safety record.

Scenes of confusion and chaos outside the downtown tower block in Mexico City have dealt another blow to Pemex's image, just as Mexico's new president is seeking to court outside investment for the 75-year-old monopoly.

Thursday's blast occurred at a Pemex building next to the 50-story skyscraper, and senior officials said 33 people had so far been confirmed dead. A further 121 were injured, said the company's chief executive, Emilio Lozoya.

Officials have been unable to say how many people may still be trapped in the wreckage of the office block, which remains cordoned off. A military paramedic at the scene said there were likely many and expected the death toll to keep rising.

Lozoya said it was not clear what caused the midafternoon explosion, which has been the subject of speculation ranging from a bomb attack, to a gas leak, to a boiler blowing up.

"A fatal incident like yesterday's cannot be explained in two hours, we are working with the best teams in Mexico and from overseas, we will not speculate," he told a news conference.

Pemex, both a symbol of Mexican self-sufficiency and a byword for security glitches, oil theft and frequent accidents, has been hamstrung by inefficiency, union corruption and a series of safety failures costing hundreds of lives.

The latest Pemex disaster is also one of the first serious tests for President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office in December saying overhauling the company was a top priority.   Continued...

A cyclist rides past crosses set up for deceased miners in Sabinas January 15, 2013. Everyday, thousands of miners go to work in the unregulated coals mines of northern Mexico knowing they may not return. Facing death on a daily basis has become a fact of life for these men as they struggle to scrape out a living in an environment bereft of rules and regulations, lacking even the most basic equipment. Unregulated mines are legal in Mexico. A company buys or leases land from a cooperative and is legally allowed to mine on it, but is not subject to any regulations. Despite the dangers, some 30,000 miners find themselves willing to take the risk, approaching their job with a matter-of-fact philosophy. Picture taken January 15, 2013. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril