A SUSPECTED gas explosion has ripped through a Mexican hotel, killing five Canadian tourists and two staff members.
Seventeen people were injured in the blast, said officials who ruled out an attack.
Army and police personnel rushed to the blast and cordoned off the Grand Riviera Princess hotel in Playa del Carmen, on Mexico’s Caribbean coast near the major resort city of Cancun.
The explosion killed “seven people, five Canadians – four men, one woman – and two Mexicans who worked at the hotel,” Quintana Roo state attorney general Francisco Alor Quezada told Milenio television.
He said all the dead Canadians were tourists and the Mexicans included a tour guide and the hotel security chief.
He said the death toll rose to seven after one of the seriously injured died.
Alor Quezada said the 17 injured included seven Canadians, two of them in serious condition, two US citizens, and eight Mexicans who worked at the hotel.
An early report said a gas tank exploded in the hotel kitchen, but Alor Quezada said it was caused by natural gas beneath the building.
Decomposing organic waste in a pocket beneath part of the hotel lobby was believed to have generated the gas buildup, he added.
He ruled out a premeditated attack as the cause of the blast.
Jeff Zimmerman, who was staying at the hotel, said the explosion opened a hole in the floor of the hotel lobby area, creating a huge crater.
Images of the blast uploaded to Youtube by hotel guests show a large, green hole in the hotel lobby peppered with with rubble, with rescue crews and hotel employees helping the injured into awaiting ambulances.
Zimmerman told Canada’s CBC television he saw a seriously injured woman.
“Half of her face was pretty much gone. She was seriously burned. She was critically injured,” he said.
Canadian consular officials have arrived at the stricken hotel to help tourists still staying there, and Mexican authorities have also contacted the US consulate, officials said.
Playa del Carmen is about 90km from the major resort centrr of Cancun, along what is known as the Maya Riviera. Mexico’s Caribbean coast welcomes about two million tourists every year, mostly from the United States, Canada and Europe.
The explosion evoked memories of a Molotov-cocktail attack in late August that killed eight people in a Cancun bar that had been targeted for extortion by organized crime, apparently the Zetas drug cartel.
Cancun has seen an escalation of drug-related violence lately, with sporadic attacks by gunmen and gruesome discoveries of bodies in wells and graves.