Fireworks blast kills 56 in Mexico

AT LEAST 56 people were killed and 348 injured as three tons of gunpowder stored beneath an illegal fireworks warehouse ignited on Sunday in Celaya, a market town in central Mexico, 150 miles north-east of the capital. Ten city blocks lay smouldering, strewn with broken glass and severed limbs, after five blasts rocked the town centre. Truckloads of scattered fruits and vegetables were stewed from the heat.

The Mexican army cordoned off the entire market area within two hours as residents mourned victims laid out in the school gym. Most died instantly, and officials were struggling to identify their remains.

Skyrockets and firecrackers displayed in a shop belonging to Nacho Ojeda caught fire at 10.25am, and tongues of flame were seen shooting from the roofline by passengers at the bus depot two blocks away after a double detonation. Red Cross volunteers and firemen went to the scene, but were enveloped by flames 20 minutes later when the butane gas tank of an adjoining chicken rotisserie ignited. The force of this explosion, heard half a mile away, flipped an ambulance and trapped rescue workers. Onlookers were caught by this third blast, which set off two more caches of fireworks.

"It was like a war. We were carrying bloodsoaked bodies while people were screaming in desperation," said Juan Manuel Fernandez, a policeman at the scene. Officials investigating the orginal fire uncovered a second warehouse of rockets belonging to Mr Ojeda. Two years ago, he had been warned to store his goods properly.