Deadly floods, explosions rock Mexico truck-stop town
CNN.com,June 7, 2003
BALASTRERA, Mexico (AP) -- First a landslide swept away people, animals and buildings. Then a ruptured gas pipeline blew up and wreaked even more fury on this popular truck-stop town between Mexico City and Veracruz.
Fifteen people were missing Friday from the flooding and explosions that rocked the area, according to the Nogales municipal police department. Flooding leveled 10 houses in Nogales alone. At least two people were killed and 80 injured, but the toll was expected to rise.
Jesus Cano was visiting a friend at one of the repair shops in Balastrera, about 115 miles southeast of Mexico City, when the floods and explosions happened.
"It was dark," said Cano, 46, who was treated for scrapes and broken glass in his neck. "There was a shudder and then it was like there was daylight. One, two, three times."
Officials said floods from the rain-gorged Chiquito River swept through town and ruptured a 2-foot-diameter gas pipeline. El Mundo de Veracruz, a newspaper in the closest major city, Orizaba, reported Friday that two explosions followed, the first caused by a truck veering off the wet pavement on a mountain road and hitting the gas line, and the second caused by a landslide nearby.
The newspaper said people, animals and cars were swept down the mountainside in a torrent of water, mud, rocks and branches.
In the center of Nogales, six miles from the explosions, floodwaters engulfed homes along the town's main street, where crews used bulldozers, axes and shovels Friday to clear debris as the water receded.
Floodwaters were waist-deep at the home of Ana Mendoza and husband Carlos Blanco, one block off main street. They dragged away the bloated body of a drowned black dog from their living room.
"We fled, we saved ourselves," Mendoza said. "But the water took everything else."
A truck hauling cars was a mass of charred metal. The driver had parked to get off a flooded highway and fled to safety as the water level rose.
Veracruz state officials reported two deaths from the explosion, while the Red Cross reported five deaths and said some of the victims had burns.
"We have reports of five dead and 80 injured, of which 15 are gravely injured," municipal Red Cross president Alfredo Chacon said Friday. "The injured have first- and second-degree burns."
The gas explosions crumpled another truck trailer like tinfoil and blew the walls off restaurants and auto-repair shops. The newspaper report said the orange glare of the first blast was visible for many miles.
At one highway-side restaurant, pots still hung on the wall and a cooler held unbroken glass bottles of beer and soda. But the rest of the building was gone, with three walls reduced to rubble along the mud-streaked highway.
The restaurant's owner, Andrea Conden, 46, said fuel mixed with water coursed over the highway before the blast.
"It was everywhere," she said. "It came rushing down every mountain around."
Conden's husband and daughter were injured, but not severely.
"This business is our life. This is how we make our living," Conden said. "Now, there's nothing for us. We don't have anything."
Rescue workers routed traffic around the debris from the explosions. Hundreds of soldiers and rescue workers were called to the area and victims were sent to hospitals in several cities.