Mexico’s Pemex Blast Kills 24, Death Toll Is Expected to Rise

Pemex CEO Jose Antonio Gonzalez Anaya told local television it was unclear what caused the accident.

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Mexican navy marines form a cordon in front of workers and relatives trying to obtain information outside the Pajaritos petrochemical complex in Coatzacoalcos, Mexico, Thursday, April 21, 2016. (Photo: AP)

Twenty-four people died after a leak caused a deadly petrochemical plant blast, and the death toll could still rise, Mexican oil giant Pemex said on Thursday. The blast is the latest in a series of fatal accidents to batter the company.

Pemex CEO Jose Antonio Gonzalez Anaya, who traveled to the site of Wednesday’s blast near the port of Coatzacoalcos, one of Pemex’s top oil export hubs, told local television it was unclear what caused the accident.

The massive explosion at the facility’s chlorinate 3 plant in the Gulf state of Veracruz also injured 136 people, 13 of them seriously. Another 18 people were unaccounted for, and one badly damaged part of the plant had yet to be scoured.

We know there was a leak, what we don’t know is why, but everything points to an accident.
Jose Antonio Gonzalez Anaya, Pemex CEO

He shared an updated death toll at a press conference late on Thursday, adding that remediation of the site could take up to a year. He denied the blast was tied to the economic problems of Pemex, which is trying to stem sliding output and slash costs as it creaks under the pressure of low crude prices.

The sharp odor of ammonia filled the air and the plants’ turbines still streamed gray smoke on Thursday afternoon, where local and municipal police, as well as marines, blocked the entrance to the facility.

Mexican army soldiers wearing protective face masks stand guard at an entrance of the Pajaritos petrochemical complex in Coatzacoalcos, Mexico, Thursday, 21 April 2016. (Photo: AP)
Mexican army soldiers wearing protective face masks stand guard at an entrance of the Pajaritos petrochemical complex in Coatzacoalcos, Mexico, Thursday, 21 April 2016. (Photo: AP)

Most officials wore blue face masks to protect against the fumes while family members crowded around, their faces uncovered, demanding more information on missing relatives and at times throwing objects at the officials or pushing them. Others held hands and prayed for the missing and dead.

Relatives of missing workers of a nearby petrochemical plant of the state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos ( Pemex ) pray as they wait for news about their loved ones outside the local hospital in Coatzacoalcos, Mexico, late Wednesday, 20 April  2016. (Photo: AP)
Relatives of missing workers of a nearby petrochemical plant of the state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos ( Pemex ) pray as they wait for news about their loved ones outside the local hospital in Coatzacoalcos, Mexico, late Wednesday, 20 April 2016. (Photo: AP)
We are desperate because no-one is coming out to show their face. They told us we were breathing toxins and we should leave. But ... if we leave, they could make the bodies disappear.
Ancelma Cordero, whose 21-year-old brother is one of the missing

She said she had been waiting since the prior night and her head was starting to hurt.

Calling it a “tragic accident”, President Enrique Pena Nieto headed to the region late Thursday to tour the facility with local officials and speak with victims and their families.

The blast occurred at a vinyl petrochemical plant that is a joint venture between Pemex’s petrochemical unit and majority owner Mexican plastic pipe maker Mexichem. Pemex operates the larger petrochemical complex where the plant was located, known as Pajaritos.

Rosa Villalobos stands in front of army soldiers as she holds up a photo of her son, Luis Alfonso Ruiz, 25, (on the right of the photo), as she tries to get information on his whereabouts outside one of the main entrances to the Pajaritos petrochemical complex in the city of Coatzacoalcos, Mexico, Thursday, 21 April 2016. (Photo: AP)
Rosa Villalobos stands in front of army soldiers as she holds up a photo of her son, Luis Alfonso Ruiz, 25, (on the right of the photo), as she tries to get information on his whereabouts outside one of the main entrances to the Pajaritos petrochemical complex in the city of Coatzacoalcos, Mexico, Thursday, 21 April 2016. (Photo: AP)

The plant produces some 900 tons a day of vinyl chloride monomer, also known as chloroethene, an industrial chemical used to produce plastic piping. The joint venture had forecast sales of $260 million this year.

Shares in Mexichem closed 5.2 percent lower on Thursday.

In February, a fire killed a worker at the same plant.

In 2013, at least 37 people were killed by a blast at its Mexico City headquarters, and 26 people died in a fire at a Pemex natural gas facility in northern Mexico in September 2012.

A 2015 fire at its Abkatun Permanente platform in the oil-rich Bay of Campeche affected oil output and cost the company up to $780 million.

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