TULTEPEC, Mexico (AP) — An explosion ripped through Mexico’s best-known fireworks market on the northern outskirts of the capital Tuesday, killing at least nine people, injuring scores more and sending a huge plume of charcoal-gray smoke billowing into the sky.
Mexican Federal Police announced via its official Twitter account what it called the preliminary toll from the afternoon blast at the open-air San Pablito Market in Tultepec, in the State of Mexico.
“My condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in this accident and my wishes for a quick recovery for the injured,” said President Enrique Pena Nieto via Twitter.
Crescencia Francisco Garcia arrived in the afternoon to buy fireworks and said she was near the middle of the grid of stalls when the explosions began around 2:30 p.m.
“All of a sudden it started booming,” the 41-year-old Mexico City resident said. “I and the others surrounding me all took off running.”
Eventually Garcia was able to find her daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren who were waiting in a car just inside the perimeter fence.
The Mexican Red Cross said it sent 10 ambulances with 50 paramedics to the scene.
National Civil Protection Coordinator Luis Felipe Puente told Milenio television that some nearby homes were also damaged. The scene remained dangerous and he asked people not to come within 3 miles (5 kilometers) to avoid hampering the emergency response.
Fireworks continued to pop off long after the blast, and Puente added that there was no choice but to let any unexploded fireworks be consumed.
A fire engulfed the same market in 2005, touching off a chain of explosions that leveled hundreds of stalls just ahead of Mexico’s Independence Day. A similar fire at the San Pablito Market also destroyed hundreds of stands in September 2006.
Many in Mexico traditionally celebrate holidays — including Christmas and New Year’s — by setting off noisy firecrackers and rockets.
Associated Press writer Christopher Sherman reported from Tultepec, Mexico, and Peter Orsi reported from Mexico City.