Rescue workers search for victims at the headquarters of state-owned Mexican oil giant Pemex in Mexico City following a blast inside the building. / Yuri Cortez, AFP/Getty Images
MEXICO CITY - The death toll from an explosion that rocked the headquarters of Mexico's state-run oil monopoly Pemex increased to 33 people while workers continued sifting through rubble for even more victims in the badly damaged building.
Pemex director Emilio Lozoya Austin told a Friday morning press conference that the company "would spare no expense" in pulling victims from the rubble and providing attention to the injured and the families of those killed.
He gave no new information on what might have caused the explosion, which sent smoke soaring from one of the Mexican capital's best-known landmarks.
The blast ripped through the lower level of a building adjacent to the Pemex tower in central Mexico City at about 3:45 p.m. local time Thursday, forcing the evacuation of 3,500 employees. About 120 people were injured.
Local media reported that machinery exploded in the basement of an administrative center next to the Pemex tower in Mexico City, which has more than 50 floors.
The Mexico City government had rescue teams with search dogs to look for victims buried in the basement of a building known as B2, where nearly 1,700 employees worked.
Government spokesman Eduardo Sánchez said that rescue workers were trying to reach an estimated 30 people who may still trapped inside the office complex. At least one person was pulled alive from the debris late Thursday, the Interior Ministry said.
President Enrique Peña Nieto said via Twitter that he would be personally overseeing rescue operations. He also visited hospitalized victims of the disaster.
"We're going to get to the bottom of this, to carry out these investigations to, first, know what really happened, and if someone is responsible in this case, apply the full weight of the law," Peña Nieto told the El Universal newspaper.
Before the blast, Pemex - Petróleos Mexicanos - announced it had evacuated the tower as a precaution because of electrical problems. The El Universal newspaper reported that an overheated air conditioning unit may have caused the blast. Another outlet reported it may have resulted by a buildup of natural gas.
No suggestions of sabotage or terrorism have been made, although some of the president's most persistent critics floated conspiracy theories.
"Glass flew in all directions, parts of objects that I don't know where they came from. All the car alarms went off; I froze," Pemex worker Indira Rojas told the newspaper Reforma.
Pemex produces petroleum that provides approximately one-third of federal revenues, but the company has been plagued by operational difficulties. A September accident at a Pemex gas-processing plant near the U.S. border at McAllen, Texas, claimed 26 lives, while the theft of combustibles from its pipelines is rife - and often blamed on organized criminal groups. Investigations into such incidents are often unsatisfactory, says Houston-based energy analyst George Baker.
"Accidents come and go, but knowledge of the causes will not become public information," says Baker, publisher of Energia.com.
Lozoya, who was traveling to Asia at the time of the blast, insists that rescue workers will work until everyone is accounted for. The statement reflected differences from previous tragedies in Mexico such as the 1985 Mexico City earthquake and a massive 1992 sewer explosion in Guadalajara, where the death tolls were disputed after disappointing government-led rescue efforts.
Pemex produces 2.57 million barrels of oil daily, a figure in decline due to overproduction and a lack of new reserves. Lozoya said production and refining activities would continue uninterrupted.
The Mexican oil industry was nationalized in 1938 and only Pemex may commercialize the country's reserves.
Peña Nieto has pledged to open Mexico's oil industry to outside investment, while keeping Pemex in government hands.
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