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At least 33 dead in Mexico City skyscraper explosion

The death toll has risen to 32 in Mexico City after an explosion blasted the lower floors of a skyscraper housing the headquarters of state oil monopoly Pemex. NBCNews.com's Dara Brown reports.

The death toll from a powerful explosion in the Mexico City skyscraper complex housing the offices of state oil monopoly Pemex rose to at least 33, company and government officials said Friday.

Twenty men and 12 women were killed, the company said — while 121 were injured, 52 of whom remain in hospital. 

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto arrived at the Pemex administration complex by helicopter Thursday night to supervise rescue operations, Pemex and the news agency La Prensa reported. Hundreds of Mexican military forces were sent to the complex to "preserve security," officials told newspaper El Universal.


Rescue crews had searched most of the area damaged by the blast by Friday afternoon, said Attorney General Jesus Murillo said. But he added that survivors or more victims could still be found in the most unstable parts, which had not yet been fully checked.

Emilio Lozoya Austin, director general of Pemex, which is short for Petrõleos Mexicanos, told Reuters Friday the the company was "working with the best teams in Mexico and from overseas" to find the cause of the explosion.

He was flying home from a business trip to Asia when the blast occured. He said he extended his condolences "to all the families of Pemex workers who have lost their loved ones."

The explosion took place in the basement garage of the auxiliary building, next to the company's 52-floor tower in a busy commercial and residential area, said Eduardo Sánchez, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

Stringer/Mexico/Reuters

An injured woman is transferred to a stretcher outside the headquarters of state oil giant Pemex in Mexico City on Thursday.

"They're conducting a tour of the building and the area adjacent to the blast site to verify if there are any still trapped so they can be rescued immediately," Sanchez said Thursday.

A government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said preliminary findings suggested the blast was caused by aged boiler exploding in a building next to the tower, Reuters reported.

The plaster ceiling of the basement collapsed, a spokesman for the local emergency agency said. He described conditions in the tower as "delicate."

The main floor and the mezzanine of the auxiliary building were heavily damaged, along with windows as far as three floors up. 

A man who was on the ground floor when the explosion occurred told Forum TV that the first casualties were taken to a clinic in the adjacent office tower, where several thousand people work.

"It shook the building, and then we were evacuated," he said.

Company touted safety record
News of the blast came toward the end of the business day — just a few hours after the company had sent two messages on Twitter celebrating how much it had "reduced our accident rate in recent years," announcing that its "safety indicators" exceeded international standards:

Twitter.com

Twitter.com

"An explosion took place in the B2 building of the administrative center," Pemex tweeted just after 4 p.m. local time (5 p.m. ET). "There are injuries and damage on the ground floor and mezzanine," it said, promising further information as it became available.

Pemex initially said the building had been evacuated because of a problem with its electricity supply. It then said there had been an explosion, but it didn't give the cause.

Milenio TV via NBC News

The scene at Pemex headquarters in Mexico City on Thursday after an explosion. There was no official explanation for the blast.

Television images showed people being evacuated — some on office chairs and gurneys. Emergency crews loaded people on stretchers into helicopters and airlifted them out of the area.

"The place shook, we lost power and suddenly there was debris everywhere," Cristian Obele told Milenio news network. "Colleagues were helping us out of the building."

Jose Cuellar, a mechanic who works near the complex, said he was repairing a car when an explosion rocked his entire workshop.

"We went to see and saw people coming out injured," Cuella, 45,  told El Universal. "Other people were carrying them."

Edgar Zuniga Jr. and M. Alex Johnson of NBC News, Telemundo and Reuters contributed to this report.