Blast apparently caused by buildup of gas from nearby swamp, official says

PLAYA DE CARMEN, MEXICO—A powerful explosion that killed five Canadian tourists and two Mexican workers at a resort hotel on Mexico’s posh Riviera Maya was apparently caused by build up of gas from a nearby swamp, authorities said.

The blast at the 676-room hotel Grand Riviera Princess hotel in Playa del Carmen, south of Cancun, blew out windows and ceiling panels and hurled paving stones and chunks of metal 50 metres onto the palm-fringed lawn of the compound.

Francisco Alor, attorney general of Quintana Roo, the state where the resort is located, said five Canadian tourists were killed and two others were in critical condition. A total of 12 people were injured in Sunday’s explosion: Eight Mexicans, two Americans and two Canadians. The injuries of the Americans and Mexicans appeared less serious.

Alor described a horrific scene in which the floor of the building was hurled through the ceiling by the force of the explosion, blowing out windows and sending fragments of aluminum window and ceiling panels frame over a wide area.

“Everyone said their hotel room shook. The glass at neighbouring restaurants all cracked and blew out. The tiki hut that was in the area, that was on fire,” said James Gaade of St. Catharines, Ont., who was walking on the beach when he heard a loud explosion and saw smoke coming from the resort’s premium platinum lounge. “There was a large crater in the area, debris.”

Alor did not identify the victims. Playa del Carmen Civil Defence director Jesus Puc said the Canadian fatalities included a nine-year-old boy.

A statement from Canada’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade department said one Canadian was confirmed killed, adding that “we have received unconfirmed reports that three Canadian citizens are missing and seven are injured. No further information is available at this time.”

The resort was hosting a large number of Canadians, including at least one wedding and a company vacation. Gaade estimated that 50 to 70 per cent of the guests at the resort were Canadians.

The blast occurred in a lounge on the ground floor of one of a dozen or so buildings that make up the sprawling hotel, and left a crater a metre deep.

The area, next to the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, was cordoned off and about 30 Mexican army soldiers stood guard around the hotel.

Alor said the initial investigations suggest the gas that exploded beneath the building was apparently not for cooking, but rather a mix of gases from a nearby swamp.

Alor told local media that investigations were under way to see if the hotel building, which sat on a concrete pad on a swampy area near the beach, had been properly constructed.

“The report suggests an accumulation of gases produced by decomposing organic material in the subsoil, and this gas produced the explosion,” Alor said.

“Expert examiners and civil defence personnel will have to determine if the underground space filled with swampy water that remained in this zone when the building was constructed four years ago, could have generated this type of gases,” he said.

Officials said no gas lines were located in the area where the blast occurred.

Pete Travers, program director of 570 News Radio in Kitchener, Ont., was at the hotel with a large group of Canadians from nearby Waterloo. He said all members of his group were accounted for.

Travers recalled hearing a huge crash before he went down for breakfast. He stepped into the hallway to find people running from the blast site as word of an explosion rippled across the resort.

“There was quite a lot of chaos,” Travers said. He and a few other guests rushed to grab deck chairs from the pool area to use as makeshift stretchers.

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