Sun, Feb 03, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Mexico to probe blast; 33 dead

EXPLOSIVE SITUATION:Speculation over the cause of Thursday’s blast at the headquarters of the state-run oil firm has ranged from a bomb attack to a gas leak

Reuters, MEXICO CITY

Soldiers on Friday clear the premises of the building that houses the state-owned Mexican oil giant PEMEX of rubble, following a blast in Mexico City on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

Mexico’s government vowed on Friday to find out whether an explosion that killed 33 people at the headquarters of its state-run oil monopoly Pemex was a deliberate attack or yet another stain on the company’s poor safety record.

Rescue workers continued to pull bodies from the debris on Friday and officials said the search would continue until they account for everyone inside the Mexico City building.

Government officials have refused to speculate over what caused the explosion on Thursday, but said they had deployed large teams of experts to pore through the wreckage.

Attorney General Jesus Murillo said the explosion did not cause a fire, but refused to be drawn on what that implied about the cause.

Parts of the reinforced concrete ground floor of the building caved in, and the ceiling was a mess of twisted metal pipes and ducts.

The blast at Pemex’s complex in the capital killed at least 33 people and a further 121 were injured.

The scenes of chaos have dealt another blow to Pemex’s image, just as Mexico’s new government is seeking to open up the oil industry to more private investment.

Speculation over the cause has ranged from a bomb attack, to a gas leak, to a boiler blowing up.

Pemex, which was created when Mexico nationalized its oil industry in 1938, is a symbol of self-sufficiency, but it has also been blighted by corruption, inefficiency and frequent accidents costing hundreds of lives.

The latest Pemex disaster is one of the first serious tests for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who must overcome the legacy of his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which ruled for much of the past century.

After seven decades in power, the party gained a reputation for corruption and cover-ups that have made Mexicans skeptical of whether they are being told the truth.

Investors have been closely following how far he will go in enticing private capital to boost flagging oil output in a country that is the world’s No. 7 producer.

“This incident speaks very poorly of the image of Pemex management, and that’s interpreted as additional risk in the market,” said Miriam Grunstein, an energy researcher at Mexico’s CIDE think tank.

A Pemex official said the damaged area of the company’s headquarters was used for human resources in the corporate and refining divisions.

It did not have a boiler or gas installations, the official said.

Mexican officials have not ruled out sabotage.

An official at the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said an “international response team” was on its way to Mexico City at the request of the Mexican government.

Pemex chief executive Emilio Lozoya said the four floors most affected by the explosion normally had about 200 to 250 people working on them.

About 10,000 staff work in the entire complex.

Meanwhile, George Baker, director of Energia.com, a Houston-based energy research center, said past history suggested the government could seek to exploit the incident.

He pointed to the 1992 Guadalajara blast and the subsequent deal that followed to overhaul the Pemex administration led by then-president Carlos Salinas, like Pena Nieto, a PRI member.

Pena Nieto has yet to reveal details of his Pemex reform plan, which already faces opposition from the left.

Both Pena Nieto and his finance minister this week said the company would not be privatized.

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