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February 01, 2013

Blast Rocks Mexico's Pemex Building

by Greg Flakus

Mexican officials are searching for answers after an explosion at the Mexico City headquarters of the state-run Pemex oil company killed at least 32 people. More than 100 others were injured.

The blast late Thursday shattered the lower floors of the company's 54-story tower in the capital. Ambulances and rescue crews arrived as workers streamed out of the building, which was shrouded in smoke. Initial reports indicate that the explosion occurred somewhere in the basement or in the basement of an adjacent building, but Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong says a complete investigation will have to wait.

He says the priority now is to search for people who may still be trapped in the lower part of the Pemex building and recover the bodies of those who have been killed. He says federal and city agencies as well as private relief organizations are coordinating their work at the site.
 
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Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto visited the site in the evening to survey the damage and the relief effort. He issued a statement of condolence to the families of the dead and said he has ordered an investigation into the cause of the blast.

Pemex, which is shorthand for Petroleos Mexicanos, is the state-owned oil company set up after the country nationalized foreign oil operations in 1938. The heavily taxed profits of the company cover about a third of the Mexican federal government's budget.

Pemex has suffered a number of serious accidents in recent years, including an explosion at a Pemex natural gas plant in northern Mexico in September that killed 30 people.

This latest incident also comes at a time when politicians are debating proposed reforms that would allow more foreign investment in Pemex projects. Nationalists have opposed almost any such investment as a possible move toward privatizing the company.

Although Pemex is one of the largest companies in the world, measured by total market value, its production has fallen in recent years as old fields play out. The company also has come under criticism for corruption and inefficiency. President Pena Nieto says he has no intention of privatizing Pemex, but he does seek some opening to private investment to help modernize the company.