REYNOSA, Mexico - The death toll in a pipeline fire at a distribution plant near the U.S. border has risen to 29, Mexico's state-owned oil company said Wednesday. At least 46 others were injured, and more might be missing.
Juan Jose Suarez, director of the state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos company, told local media earlier in the day that at least five workers had not been seen since the blast. On Tuesday, the company, known as Pemex, said in its Twitter account that a total of seven people were unaccounted for.
President Felipe Calderon said the quick reaction of emergency teams prevented a "real catastrophe," by controlling the fire before it reached the huge tanks of a neighboring gas processing plant.
The enormous fire Tuesday hit a distribution center near the border with Texas that handles natural gas coming in from wells and sends it to a processing plant next door.
"The timely response by oil workers, firefighters and the Mexican army was able to control the fire relatively quickly and avoid a real catastrophe of bigger proportions and greater damages if the fire had spread to the center for gas processing, which is right there," Calderon said in a speech in Mexico City.
The blast and ensuing fire left charred tanks and a mound of tangled steel at the walled plant near the border city of Reynosa, across from McAllen, Texas.
Two of the injured were reported in serious condition.
Dr. Jaime Urbina Rivera, deputy medical director of Hospital Materno Infantil de Reynosa just a few miles from the plant, said his hospital had received nine injured workers with first- and second-degree burns covering 10 percent to 40 percent of their bodies, with the burns concentrated on their backs and legs. They all arrived conscious, he said.
Pemex officials said the blast appeared to have been caused by an accidental leak, and there was no sign so far of sabotage. The Mexican Attorney General's Office opened an investigation into the explosion Wednesday, sending more than 20 investigators into the site, which was blocked to the press.
The facility's perimeter walls, topped with razor wire as a security measure in a country that has seen thieves, saboteurs and drug gangs target oil installations, presented an obstacle for plant workers trying to flee.