Mexico City: A huge explosion rocked the Mexico City headquarters of state-owned oil giant Pemex on Thursday, killing at least 25 people, injuring 100 more and leaving rescuers scrambling to find survivors.
Smoke billowed skyward as people fled the 54-floor skyscraper with some of those hurt in the blast being carried out on stretchers and office chairs, as witnesses recalled how a huge rumble shook the floor like an earthquake.
Windows broke on several lower floors, scattering debris, with the company saying the cause of the deadly incident was under investigation and declaring that any reports on the origin of the blast amounted to speculation.
“We continue to look for survivors in the debris,” interior minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong told reporters.
Osorio Chong said moments earlier that around 100 people were injured, while the cause of the blast was not yet known.
A spokesman for the civil protection agency told AFP there was an apparent “accumulation of gas” in an electrical supply room, but the exact cause of the blast had yet to be confirmed.
Emergency workers with rescue dogs, helicopters and several ambulances were at the scene in the capital, a city that is equipped to handle earthquakes.
Pemex said on Twitter that the explosion hit the ground floor and mezzanine of the tower’s annex.
“We had two minutes to leave the building. I was headed to the pharmacy when the windows broke. It was a deafening noise,” Astrid Garcia Trevino, who worked in the annex, told AFP. “The floor shook as if it was an earthquake.”
Some witnesses told local media that a number of people were trapped in rubble.
“It was dramatic. The building was shaking and suddenly there was debris. We couldn’t even see the people next to us,” Pemex employee and union member Cristian Obele told reporters.
Another worker told the Televisa channel that the “very strong explosion” took place around 4:00 pm.
“Windows broke, people were injured and a lot of people were in shock,” the unidentified worker said.
Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto and the capital’s Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera headed to the scene. Authorities closed off the avenue in front of the tower.
“I deeply regret the death of Pemex workers,” Pena Nieto said on Twitter. “The priority at the moment is to help the injured and protect the people working there.”
Pemex, the world’s fourth-largest producer of crude with around 2.5 million barrels per day, said the administrative centre would remain closed “until further notice.” The company had announced earlier the building had been evacuated due to a power failure.
The company has experienced deadly accidents at its oil and gas facilities in the past. Last year, a huge explosion killed 30 people at a gas plant near the northern city of Reynosa, close to the US border.
The previous worst incident took place in December 2010, when an oil pipeline exploded after it was punctured by thieves in the central town of San Martin Texmelucan, leaving 29 dead and injuring more than 50.
In October 2007, 21 Pemex workers died during a gas leak on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Most drowned when they jumped into the sea in panic.