Hunt for survivors after gas blast kills three at maternity hospital

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Rescuers were searching for survivors of a powerful gas explosion that shattered a maternity and children’s hospital in Mexico City, killing at least three adults and one baby while injuring dozens more.

Claudia Dominguez, a spokeswoman for the city’s civil defence agency, confirmed the deaths from a gas tank truck explosion, but said she could not verify a report by a local borough chief, Adrian Rubalcava, that seven had died.

Felicitas Hernandez, 35, cried as she waited outside the collapsed building hoping for word of her month-old baby, who had been in hospital since birth with respiratory problems.

“They wouldn’t let me sleep with him,” said Ms Hernandez, who said she had come to the city-run Maternity and Children’s Hospital of Cuajimalpa because she had no money.

The explosion occurred when the tanker was making a routine, early morning fill-up in 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 66-year-old anaesthesiologist Agustin Herrera.

People started to evacuate the hospital, and then there was a massive explosion that sent up an enormous fireball and plumes of dust and smoke.

Mr Herrera saw injured mothers walking out carrying babies. He said there had been nine babies in the 35-bed hospital’s nursery, one in a very serious condition before the explosion.

“We avoided a much bigger tragedy because the oxygen tanks are right beside (the area) and they didn’t explode,” Mr Herrera said. The most affected parts of the hospital were the neonatology, reception and emergency reception units, he added.

The driver and two employees were hospitalised but are also in custody, said a Mexico City government spokesman.

Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera earlier told the Televisa network that at least 54 people were injured, 22 of them children. Most of the injuries were relatively minor, he said, many caused by flying glass.

The explosion sent a column of smoke billowing over the area on the western edge of Mexico’s capital and television images showed much of the hospital collapsed, with firefighters trying to extinguish fires.

“The truck must have had some failure, the hose and that’s what caused the explosion,” Mr Mancera said. He said that fire continued burning because firefighters recommended that they allow the truck’s remaining gas to burn off. He said there was no risk of another explosion.

Ismael Garcia, 27, who lives a block from the hospital, said “there was a big explosion and everything caught on fire.”

Mr Garcia ran to the hospital and said he and others made their way to the nursery. “Fortunately, we were able to get eight babies out,” he said.

Rafael Gonzalez of the Red Cross said one man arrived at the agency’s hospital with burns over 90 per cent of his body, and he was transferred to another hospital.

President Enrique Pena Nieto expressed his sadness and support for the victims through his official Twitter account.