An explosion at a petrochemical plant in the southern Mexican state of Veracruz has killed at least 13 people and injured 136 more, some of them seriously. The blast, apparently caused by an accidental leak, is the last of a series of fatal incidents to batter the state-owned energy company Pemex.
"We know there was a leak, what we don't know is why, but everything points to an accident," the head of Pemex, José Antonio González, told Radio Fórmula on Thursday. "It's possible the death toll could increase."
The explosion, which occurred on Wednesday afternoon, caused a black cloud smelling of ammonia to rise above the vinyl petrochemical plant located inside the Pemex Pajaritos complex near the city of Coatzacoalcos on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The plant makes a vinyl chloride monomer, also known as chloroethene, an industrial chemical used to produce plastic piping.
The toxic cloud triggered the evacuation of around 2,000 people from the villages nearest the plant. Though the authorities said the gasses quickly dispersed and the danger had disappeared, schools in the area were still closed on Thursday as a precaution.
The explosion was the latest in a litany of safety disasters that have plagued the state oil giant, which is trying to stem the bleed of sliding output and slash costs as it creaks under the pressure of low crude prices.
In 2013, at least 37 people were killed by a blast at its Mexico City headquarters, and 26 people died in a fire at a Pemex natural gas facility in northern Mexico in September 2012.
In February this year, a fire killed a worker at the same plant in the Pajaritos complex involved in the latest explosion. The Pajaritos compound is Pemex's main export hub in the Gulf of Mexico.
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