Hundreds of workers Thursday clawed through tons of debris, searching for the dead and the living after a series of explosions in the sewer lines wrecked a huge section of Mexico's second-largest city. The government said at least 200 people were killed.
Guadalajarans demanded to know why volatile gas was allowed to build up in the sewer system and why the government failed to quickly act on reports of a gasolinelike smell permeating the area before Wednesday's explosions.The precise cause of the nine blasts, which gouged deep trenches in the streets of the Reforma District, was still unclear, but some officials blamed a buildup of either an industrial cleaning solvent or gasoline.
Ambulances, lights flashing and sirens blaring, raced through the streets as workers, some with specially trained dogs, searched for bodies or anyone alive under the debris. Hundreds of soldiers stacked victims' broken belongings, including furniture and toys, in piles.
Ramon Guerra, 22, said he had pulled the bodies of his sister and his 6-year-old nephew from the ruins of their home. "If authorities knew about this, why didn't they tell us?" he asked.
The blasts devastated 20 to 25 square city blocks, ripping open streets, hurling cars and trucks into the air and blowing out adobe houses.
At least 600 people were hurt and as many as 15,000 people left homeless, officials said. The homeless were taken to two stadiums until temporary shelters could be set up.
Reporters were told late Wednesday by relief officials that at least 184 bodies had been counted at a temporary morgue. The office of the state attorney general said in a statement broadcast on local radio that the death toll stood at 132 as of midnight and was likely to rise. The figures could not immediately be reconciled.
Guadalajara is a popular tourist destinationand has a large colony of retired Americans across town from the blast area. It was not immediately known if any foreigners were among the dead or injured.
President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who traveled to Guadalajara Wednesday night, met into the early-morning hours with his Cabinet and said the government would do all it could to help the victims. Salinas' governing Institutional Revolutionary Party suffered severe political repercussions after an inadequate response to the devastating 1985 Mexico City earthquake.
The federal government also promised a full investigation, but some officials were already laying blame. The state government said a cooking-oil company had allowed hexane, a volatile cleaning solvent used in extracting oil from seeds, to leak into the sewer system.
Other officials said gasoline had been spilled into the sewer lines, possibly by the state oil monopoly Pemex. Pemex denied the charge.
In 1983, a sewer line exploded near a Guadalajara hospital, with no fatalities recorded.
Angry residents said they had smelled petroleum hours before Wednesday morning's explosions and raised the alarm.
"We told you. We called you. You never paid any attention to us!" people at one cratered intersection screamed at the state governor as he toured the stricken district late Wednesday night.
"My family is buried there," one told Gov. Gov. Guillermo Cosio Vidaurri, pointing to a pile of rubble. A shaken Cosio responded: "We'll dig them up in a while."
One jagged trench was 21/2 miles long, and about 1,000 buildings were damaged along it. At one intersection, someone's belongings were half-buried in the loose dirt: a straw purse, a ripped-open shopping bag, a box covered with torn wrapping paper. Big chunks of concrete were scattered around.