Blast shakes Mexico state oil firm’s headquarters, kills 14, injures at least 100

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 31, 2013 

APTOPIX Mexico PEMEX Explosion

Firefighters and workers dig for survivors after an explosion at an adjacent building to the executive tower of Mexico's state-owned oil company PEMEX, in Mexico City

GUILLERMO GUTIERREZ — AP

— An explosion ripped through the high-rise headquarters of Mexico’s state oil company Friday, killing at least 14 people, according to a government minister, and injuring more than 100.

The explosion shook the iconic 54-story headquarters of Petroleos Mexicanos, Mexico’s state owned oil company, at 3:55 p.m. local time, the end of the Mexican lunch break when hundreds of people would have been moving about the complex. As darkness fell, search teams were pulling people from the complex. Presidential spokesman David Lopez said employees remained trapped inside.

Pemex, as the company is commonly known, said on its Twitter account that the explosion hit a smaller building adjacent to the main tower, causing damage to the first and second floors and leading to the evacuation of the complex.

The cause was not immediately known.

“It was a big explosion. Then we were amid rubble,” Pemex employee Cristian Obele told the Milenio television network. “I’ve never lived through something like this.”

Interior Secretary Miguel Osorio Chong told Foro TV that 13 people had died at the site, another perished at a hospital, and “more than 80 persons are injured up to this point.”

“The priority at this time is to attend to the injured and ensure the physical safety of those who work there,” President Enrique Pena Nieto said on his Twitter account.

Some 30 people remained missing, Foro TV said. Rescue teams using sniffer dogs took part in a search effort. Shattered glass littered streets surrounding the complex, which is located in the Anzures district near central Mexico City. Sirens from ambulances wailed throughout the streets surrounding the complex and helicopters hovered overhead.

High-ranking government officials flooded the scene, a sign of the importance to Mexico of Pemex, which provided 34 percent of total government revenues in 2011, according to estimates by the U.S. Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration.

Osorio Chong joined Energy Secretary Pedro Joaquin Coldwell, Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam and Mexico City Mayor Miguel Mancera at the site.

Pena Nieto offered his condolences via Twitter, saying “I deeply lament the deaths of our fellow Pemex workers,” adding in a later tweet that he was headed to the site.

Shortly after the blast, Pemex said on its Twitter account that an electrical failure in a building adjacent to the tower, identified as B2, led to an evacuation of the tower. TV reports said the blast caused the collapse of part of an underground area.

Other unconfirmed reports said the explosion was caused by a buildup of natural gas and a malfunctioning air conditioning unit.

Photos on Twitter showed smoke curling up from the base of the building.

By early evening, Pemex had not provided official information about the disaster, saying only that workers should not return to the building till further notice. The complex, completed in 1984, has a capacity for 11,000 workers.

Pemex is on the cusp of major changes opposed by its muscular labor union. Pena Nieto, who came to office Dec. 1, pledges to reform the energy sector and open oil exploration and production to some forms of foreign investment but without privatizing the state behemoth.

Email: tjohnson@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @timjohnson4

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