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Mexicans Scrutinize Safety Following Guadalajara Blasts

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BLAME for the chain of explosions that carved a five-mile path of destruction through Mexico's second largest city last Wednesday is settling on Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the government-owned oil company.

Evidence to date indicates that a ruptured Pemex gasoline pipeline connected to a city storage tank was leaking into the sewer system for several days before the blast, according to investigators. Residents complained of smelling gas, and Guadalajara municipal workers, with Pemex crews, had been crawling through sewers trying to locate the source for two days before the explosion, reports the reputable Mexico City daily La Jornada.

Pemex has repaired the broken pipeline. But Pemex spokesman Ricardo Franco Quiroz says the leaks were not there before the disaster. They were "caused by damage to the pipes as a result of the explosion." Shortly after the explosions, Pemex issued a statement blaming a cooking-oil factory for releasing hexane gas into the sewer system.

Yet chemical engineers at the Mexican National Autonomous University say the cooking oil plant had nowhere near enough hexane - used as a solvent - to cause a series of explosions of this magnitude. And the plant's hexane tanks were reportedly still full the day after the explosion.

As residents of this poorer section of Guadalajara continued to sift through the rubble, the official number killed by the blasts climbed to 189 over the weekend, with 1,680 injured and some 4,400 left homeless. Damage is estimated at $65 million.

City residents demanding compensation and reprisals disrupted a press conference Friday by the Jalisco state governor, Guillermo Cosio. The question of why city officials did not evacuate the area before the blasts remains unanswered.

Homero Aridjis, president of the environmental organization Group of 100, says developing nations' governments tend to put business interests before public health.


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