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Death Toll In Mexico Fireworks Explosion Rises To At Least 35

Investigators are still trying to determine what sparked the blast that ripped through the popular open-air fireworks market near Mexico City on Tuesday.

Last updated on December 22, 2016, at 3:03 p.m. ET

Posted on December 20, 2016, at 6:24 p.m. ET

The death toll in the massive explosion that ripped through a fireworks open-air market outside Mexico City on Tuesday rose to 35 people, officials said.

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The blast also injured 72 people at the crowded market, official said.

"The most important thing right now is saving the lives of the injured," Eruviel Ávila Villegas, governor of the state of Mexico, said at a news conference Tuesday.

By Thursday, 35 were pronounced dead as a result of the explosion.

The number of fatalities could still rise, Mexico state chief prosecutor Alejandro Gomez said, because 12 people were listed as missing and body parts were found at the scene. Five of the missing were males, two of them minors, and seven women.

The State of Mexico in a statement said 26 bodies were recovered at the site of the explosion and six died in the hospital. Thirteen of the dead have been identified.

Some bodies were so badly burned that neither age nor gender could be immediately determined. As of Wednesday afternoon 46 people remained hospitalized.

In a Facebook Live video, Villegas said three children with severe burns were taken to a hospital in Galveston, Texas, that specializes in treating the trauma. All of the hospital costs and post care expenses would be covered by the Mexican government, he added.

“The state of Mexico is mourning over this unfortunate accident,” he said.

Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto has also offered his condolences.

Investigators were looking into whether vendors ignored safety measures by displaying fireworks outside their concrete stalls in the passageways that divided the sellers, the Associated Press reported. The passageways were supposed to prevent the explosive chain reaction that occurred.

Earlier this month Tultepec released a statement from the Mexican Pyrotechnic Institute calling the San Pablito Market the safest fireworks market in Latin America, “with perfectly designed stalls and with enough space to avoid an firestorm chain reaction from a spark.”

Firefighters and the Red Cross were able to contain the fire at the San Pablito Market on Tuesday, but explosions could be heard several minutes after the initial blast.

Hemos movilizado 25 ambulancias #CruzRoja #Edomex y 10 #CDMX a #Tultepec donde se registró una explosión de pirotec… https://t.co/Ty2sHbdZvi

Among the dead identified so far was a 3-month-old boy and 12-year-old girl.

One survivor, Crescencia Francisco Garcia, told the AP she was in middle of the grid of merchant stalls when the explosions started. As she ran with others in the smoke, she said she saw bloodied people with burns.

"Everything was catching fire. Everything was exploding," Francisco said. "The stones were flying, pieces of brick, everything was flying."

Eduardo Verdugo / AP

The market is one of Mexico’s most well-known pyrotechnic sellers, and was well for the Christmas and New Year's celebrations. During the holidays massive pyrotechnic castles and people running with fireworks strapped onto their backs, called toros or bulls, are a common sight throughout Mexico.

Tultepec, considered to be Mexico’s fireworks capital and the city’s biggest industry, is said to produce 50% to 80% of the country’s pyrotechnics. And it hosts a nine-day National Pyrotechnic Festival that has produced pioneers in the industry.

Many of Tultepec's fireworks businesses are run by families and operated out of small warehouses.

Authorities did not immediately say what may have triggered the explosion on Tuesday.

The explosion, however, is not the first firework-related disaster. More recently in 2015 a firework factory exploded in the middle of the night. And the year prior, a shop exploded in the same area of town.

El Universal

There have been high death tolls in other blasts. In 1988, a fireworks blast at a market in Mexico City killed at least 68. According to the AP, another 63 people died in 1999 when a cache of illegally stored fireworks destroyed part of the city of Celaya.

Tragedy struck again in 2002, when a fireworks explosion in the city of Veracruz killed 29 people.

Tultepec Mayor Armando Portuguez Fuentes defended the industry, noting that it is under constant supervision of Mexico's Defense Department. He also said fireworks "gives us identity."

"We know it is high-risk, we regret this greatly," he told the AP, "but unfortunately many people's livelihoods depend on this activity."

Portions of this post were translated from Spanish.

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