Search for survivors on after Mexican blast kills 32

Updated 02 February 2013
0

Search for survivors on after Mexican blast kills 32

MEXICO CITY: Emergency services worked into the early hours yeterday to find people trapped in rubble under state oil company Pemex’s headquarters in Mexico City after an explosion that killed at least 32 people and injured more than 100.
Scenes of confusion and chaos at the downtown tower dealt yet another blow to Pemex’s image as Mexico’s new president courts outside investment for the 75-year-old monopoly.
Search and rescue workers picked through debris, and investigators sifted through shattered glass and concrete at the bottom of the building to try to find what caused the blast. It was not clear how many might still be trapped inside.
Pemex, a symbol of Mexican self-sufficiency as well as a byword in Mexico for security glitches, oil theft and frequent accidents, has been hamstrung by inefficiency, union corruption and a series of safety failures costing hundreds of lives.
Thursday’s blast at the more than 50-story skyscraper that houses administrative offices followed a September fire at a Pemex gas facility near the northern city of Reynosa which killed 30 people. More than 300 were killed when a Pemex natural gas plant on the outskirts of Mexico City blew up in 1984.
Eight years later, about 200 people were killed and 1,500 injured after a series of underground gas explosions in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second biggest city. An official investigation found Pemex was partly to blame.
Pemex initially flagged Thursday’s incident as a problem with its electricity supply and then said there had been an explosion. But it did not give a cause for the blast.
A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a preliminary line of inquiry suggested a gas boiler had blown up in a Pemex building just to the side of the main tower. However, he stressed nothing had been determined for sure. Others at the scene said gas may have caused the blast.
Not long after the blast, President Enrique Pena Nieto was at the scene, vowing to discover how it happened.
“We will work exhaustively to investigate exactly what took place, and if there are people responsible, to apply the force of the law on them,” he told reporters before going to visit survivors in hospital.
Shortly after midnight, at least 46 victims were still being treated in hospital, the company said.
Pemex said the blast would not affect operations, but concern in the government was evident as top military officials, the attorney general and the energy minister joined Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong for a late news conference.
“I have issued instructions to the relevant authorities to convene national and international experts to help in the investigations,” Osorio Chong said. He later noted that the number of casualties could still climb. Whatever caused it, the deaths and destruction will put the spotlight back on safety at Pemex, which only a couple of hours before the explosion had issued a statement on Twitter saying the company had managed to improve its record on accidents.
Nieto has said he is giving top priority to reforming the company this year, though he has yet to reveal details of the plan, which already faces opposition from the left.
Both Pena Nieto and his finance minister were this week at pains to stress the company will not be privatized.


Russia says US building ‘visa wall’ after Bolshoi dancers denied entry

Updated 33 min 17 sec ago
0

Russia says US building ‘visa wall’ after Bolshoi dancers denied entry

  • The Foreign Ministry expressed regret over the United States’ decision to refuse visas to Russian prima ballerina Olga Smirnova and soloist dancer Jacopo Tissi.
  • Russian Foreign Ministry: “They are trying to fence off Americans from Russians with a visa wall, as we’ve said before, making trips of our citizens to the USA practically impossible.”

MOSCOW: Russia said on Saturday the United States was trying to fence off Russians with a “visa wall” after two Bolshoi ballet dancers were refused visas to perform in New York.
The Foreign Ministry expressed regret over the United States’ decision to refuse visas to Russian prima ballerina Olga Smirnova and soloist dancer Jacopo Tissi, who were due to perform at a Lincoln Center gala.
“This did not happen even during the Cold War,” the ministry said in a statement on its website.
“But today, influential forces in the USA, preoccupied with trying to pressure Russia hard, do not stop at anything... They are trying to fence off Americans from Russians with a visa wall, as we’ve said before, making trips of our citizens to the USA practically impossible,” it said.
Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre said it could not comment because it did not organize the tour and had no information on the visa applications.
“Since the work visa was also not issued on time for Jacopo Tissi, an Italian national, we would like to think that this was related to procedural formalities and not to the current political tensions,” its press office said in emailed comments.
The US embassy in Moscow did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
On Friday, Kremlin said the United States was deliberately making it difficult for Aeroflot crews to obtain US visas, after the Russian foreign ministry said it could not rule out the possibility that flights between the two countries might have to be halted because of the situation.