Gas Blast Wrecks Mexico Children's Hospital, Killing 3
Injured and bleeding, mothers grasping infants in their arms fled from a maternity hospital shattered by a powerful gas explosion Thursday, and rescuers began smashing sledgehammers through fallen concrete hunting for others who might be trapped.
A nurse and a baby died in the blast and a second infant died Thursday night, Mexico City authorities said. More than 70 people were injured in the blast that collapsed about three-fourths of the hospital, but by late in the day rescuers determined no one was left trapped in the rubble.
Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said some of the injured were about to be released from area hospitals, including some mothers who suffered injuries while using their bodies to shield their children.
A 25-year-old nurse and a newborn between 2 and 3 weeks old died at the scene and another infant died several hours later at another pediatric hospital, said Armando Ahued, the city's health secretary. He had said earlier that 21 babies in all had been injured, and nine of those and seven adults were in serious condition after being rushed to other hospitals.
Thirty-five-year-old Felicitas Hernandez wept as she frantically questioned people outside the wrecked building, hoping for word of her month-old baby, who had been hospitalized since birth with respiratory problems.
"They wouldn't let me sleep with him," said Hernandez, who had come to the city-run Maternity and Children's Hospital of Cuajimalpa because she had no money. Later, authorities told her to check at another hospital where she reported finding her baby uninjured.
The explosion occurred at 7:05 a.m. when a tanker truck was making a routine delivery of gas to the hospital kitchen and gas started to leak. Witnesses said the tanker workers struggled frantically for 15 or 20 minutes to repair the leak while a large cloud of gas formed.
"The hose broke. The two gas workers tried to stop it, but they were very nervous. They yelled for people to get out," said Laura Diaz Pacheco, a laboratory technician.
"Everyone's initial reaction was to go inside, away from the gas," she added. "Maybe as many as 10 of us were able to get out ... The rest stayed inside."
Workers on the truck yelled: "Call the firefighters, call the firefighters!" said anesthesiologist Agustin Herrera.
People started to evacuate the hospital, and then came a devastating explosion that sent up an enormous fireball and plumes of dust and smoke. Herrera saw injured mothers walking out carrying babies. Officials said 110 people were inside the 35-bed hospital when the truck blew up.
"We avoided a much bigger tragedy because the oxygen tanks right beside (the area) didn't explode," Herrera said.
The worst hit parts of the hospital were the neonatology, reception and emergency reception units, he said.
Margarita Palma of Amexgas, a trade association of Mexico's propane distributors, said 80 percent of Mexicans use propane rather than natural gas delivered by mains. Liquified propane, which is highly explosive, is distributed to homes and businesses either by trucks like the one that exploded or in cylinders, she said.
Homes next to the hospital had broken and cracked windows and fallen shingles from the blast, and many neighbors ran to help evacuate victims from the debris, local resident Carlos Soria Rezendiz said.