A natural gas tanker truck lost control, hit a center divider and exploded on a highway lined by homes in the Mexico City suburb of Ecatepec early on Tuesday, killing at least 22 people and injuring nearly three dozen, authorities said.
Officials at the Citizen Safety Department of Mexico State, which surrounds the capital, did not rule out the possibility the death toll could rise. At least a dozen people remained hospitalized late on Tuesday, several of them in critical condition.
Mexico State Governor Eruviel Avila said late on Tuesday that 22 people were known dead in a letter to Pope Francis, with whom he was supposed to meet at the Vatican yesterday. Avila said he was returning to Mexico instead.
The safety department’s spokesman, Cesar Diaz, said emergency workers would continue searching through the night in the charred remains of vehicles and homes built near the highway on the northern edge of the metropolis.
Residents pitched in to rescue people from the wreckage of the 5:30am explosion, crushed and burned cars and shattered homes. Television footage showed plumes of flame shooting out of homes in the pre-dawn darkness.
A huge piece of the truck’s gas tank was blown 45m by the blast, landing atop the wall of a house and cars parked outside. A number of pigs, goats and other farm animals that were kept on patios were killed.
“It was thunderous sound. I thought we were all going to die,” said Rita Enriquez, 42, a housewife who lives nearby. “When we ran out, we saw a car on fire and flames everywhere. Smoke was pouring all over the freeway.”
Mario Lopez, 43, a mechanic, lives in the house hit by the tank and managed to escape with his three sons after being awakened by the blast.
“All the windows broke to the inside. We got down and left crawling,” said Lopez, who lost a brother, a sister, three nephews and a sister-in-law who all lived in separate units of the three-story home.
He said 12 people in all died in the house, adding: “Everything was in flames.”
Enriquez said five of her relatives were gravely injured in their concrete slab home along the road, though she had no other details as she waited for word outside Magdalena Las Salinas Hospital in Mexico City.
Her 15-year-old niece, Wendy Garrido, who was pregnant, was forced to give birth after the explosion, she said.
The driver, Juan Olivares, 36, was heading south from Pachuca to Mexico City in a tractor that was hauling two gas tanks on tandem trailers, said Jose Luis Cervantes, an assistant state prosecutor. Olivares was under detention while being treated at a hospital, he said.