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Gas caused blast that killed 37 in Mexico

A gas buildup under a building in the headquarters of Mexico's state oil company caused a blast that killed 37 people and wounded dozens, the attorney-general said Monday, ending days of near-total silence by authorities about the petroleum giant's worst disaster in more than a decade.

Attorney General Jesus Karam said an investigation by Mexican, Spanish, U.S. and British experts found no evidence of explosives in the blast that collapsed several lower floors of the Petroleos Mexicanos administrative building in Mexico City on Thursday afternoon. He said investigators believed that an electrical spark or other source of heat had detonated the gas.

With the exception of three victims, none of those killed had the burn marks or damaged ear drums that are typical evidence of a bombing, he said. Nor was there any sign of a crater or fracturing of the building's steel beams, also common signs of the detonation of an explosive device.

Murillo said officials had yet to discover the source of what initial evidence indicated to be methane gas that leaked from a duct or tunnel or came from the sewer system and built up in the basement of the building.

Murillo said that an independent contractor had told investigators that he was working with a crew of three men performing maintenance in the basement of building B2. The contractor said the basement wasn't lit, so his crew had rigged illumination by attaching a crude electric cable to a power source in the ceiling.

The contractor told investigators that seconds after he moved to a higher floor, he heard a noise and then the building was rocked by an explosion. The crew of three men was found dead in the lower basement with burn marks, one with a fragment of cable stuck to his body. They had no evidence of the dismemberment typical in the detonation of explosives.

Murillo described the blast as a "diffuse" explosion whose blast moved slowly and horizontally, typical of the detonation of a cloud of gas, rather than an explosion that would have emanated from a relatively compact source like a bomb.

He said laboratory tests had turned up "zero" evidence of any explosive.

The Canadian Press


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