Mexico blast survivor: “I couldn’t feel the blood, but the wound was shocking”

A car mechanic recounts how he narrowly escaped death in the fireworks market explosion on Tuesday

Pablo Ferri

José Antonio Flores, a car mechanic from the Mexican village of Tultepec, was about to walk into the local fireworks market on Tuesday afternoon when he heard an explosion. After that, he only remembers bricks and rubble flying through the air.

A victim of the Tultepec explosion at a Cuautitlán hospital.
A victim of the Tultepec explosion at a Cuautitlán hospital.Karlo Reyes.
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José Antonio Flores’ eyelid is living proof of the elasticity of human skin: it looks like it is protecting a baseball.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t know what hit me,” he says. It might have been a brick, a block of concrete or a piece of iron. Any one of the thousands of objects that went flying in the fireworks explosion in this village in Mexico State, around 40 kilometers north of Mexico City.

José Antonio is one of the survivors of a blast that has killed 31 people by the latest count. His auto repair shop is located just one street away from the popular pyrotechnics market.

There was a completely charred man who had smoke coming out of his feet, according to a witness account

He explains that he went out with his son and another mechanic at lunch time to find a car belonging to one of the market sellers.

“I was about 50 meters from the entrance when I heard the first blast. I started to run. Something hit me in the back and the face, but inertia will keep you running,” he recalls.

As he ran, José Antonio heard two more explosions in quick succession. He then took refuge inside a restaurant – or perhaps he lingered at the door, he cannot quite remember. He felt blood coming out of his nose and eyelid, and a pain in the back.

“I didn't notice the blood, but people were staring at me: the wound was shocking,” he recalls.

At that point, he did not know where his son or José Fabián, the other mechanic, had gone. A few minutes later he got up and started looking in all directions until he finally located them.

“I saw seriously injured people,” he says. “There was one person with a maimed foot.”

A massive explosion gutted Mexico's biggest fireworks market on Tuesday.
A massive explosion gutted Mexico's biggest fireworks market on Tuesday.ISRAEL GUTIERREZ (AFP)

On Tuesday night, José Antonio sits on a wheelchair in a hospital near Tultepec, waiting to be discharged. He winces with pain from the blow to the back.

José Fabián is with him. There is not a scratch on his body. When he heard the explosions, he started running too, and watched things go by that normally don’t fly: tin sheets, bricks, wall sections.

“The first thing I remember is a lady who had a rock fall on her right ear. A very big one, like this,” he says, making a fist. “The blow made a hole, and her brains came out.”

After the explosions, José Fabián stopped running. “Then the fireworks began going off, as though it was a party,” he recalls.

The first thing I remember is a lady who had a rock fall on her right ear. It made a hole and her brains came out

José Fabián, survivor

That went on for an hour. In the meantime, screams started to be heard from within the market. But those outside did not dare enter.

When the firefighters arrived to what was left of the market and hosed it down, José Fabián and a group of locals went in behind them.

“The firefighters put out the fire, and we moved the rubble,” he recalls. “We took people out.”

Both men are surprised that the death count is only 31. José Fabián has made a list of the dead he has seen with his own eyes.

“There was the woman with the hole in the head; there was a lady who was like this,” he says, crossing his legs. Later he saw another woman with a burnt face and wearing only a bra. And a young man with a mangled left leg. And another one with half his face burnt away. And a completely charred man who had smoke coming out of his feet.

If just one person saw this many bodies, how can there not be many more?

Around 10 meters away, a group of state police officers are organizing the line of people who have come to the hospital. They have bandages, surgical gloves, oxygenated water and catheters.

Dr Osmán Álvarez, an emergencies expert, says the rush is over. The seriously injured have been transferred to other hospitals, and the others are being discharged.

English version by Susana Urra.

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