Frantic search for babies after gas explosion levels part of maternity hospital in Mexico City

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(CNN) — Rescuers rushed from the rubble with babies in their arms after a gas explosion leveled part of a maternity hospital in Mexico City on Thursday, killing at least two people and injuring dozens more.

More than 100 people were inside when the blast occurred at about 7 a.m. at the Cuajimalpa Maternal Hospital after a hose burst on a truck supplying gas to the building. Paramedics carried bloodied victims on stretchers.

Ivonne Lugo Durantes told CNNMexico she spent 10 minutes trapped under rubble before rescuers reached her.

The supervising nurse called her husband, Mario Angeles Sanchez, after the blast. As she described what was happening, he heard people in the background screaming for help.

“I am still a little bit in shock. It was a nightmare,” she said, describing how hospital workers tried to rescue babies from a nursery as flames engulfed the building.

One of the fatalities was a woman, the other a baby, Mexico City Health Secretary Armando Ahued told reporters. At least 66 people were injured, officials said, including about 20 newborns.

Seven babies were in critical condition, he said. Officials initially reported a higher death toll, but later said a mix-up between the number of those deceased and those seriously injured led to an incorrect report.

Outside the hospital, frantic family members searched for word of loved ones they feared were inside.

Hours after the explosion, officials said it appeared everyone had been removed from the rubble. But some witnesses feared there could be more victims trapped in the debris.

‘She covered up the baby and ran’

Jose Eduardo was relieved to learn his wife and son, who was born on Wednesday, had survived the blast. He heard about the explosion on the news from his home, where he’d gone to rest after the baby was born. He rushed to the hospital to be by his wife’s side.

“She told me that it started to smell like gas and the ceiling started to fall on everyone,” he told CNNMexico. “She covered up the baby and ran.”

His wife was barefoot when she escaped, he said. Others were naked.

“We started pulling babies from the debris who were alive,” Ignacio, a volunteer at the scene, told CNN. “We pulled out, fortunately, I think we pulled out seven. We would’ve wanted to pull out more.”

Witnesses said the explosion shook the neighborhood.

“We heard something, and it smelled so much like gas, really a lot. And then two minutes, three seconds later, we saw an explosion that made everything fly in the air,” witness Teresa Ramirez told CNNMexico. “It threw me to the ground.”

Virginia Gonzalez, who lives near the hospital, said her patio was covered with broken glass from blown-out windows.

Lugo, the nurse who was inside the hospital during the explosion, told CNNMexico she is suffering from first-degree burns but feels lucky to be alive.

“I feel grateful to have another chance to keep living,” she said, “to keep working as a nurse.”

Three detained as authorities investigate blast

Investigators are working to determine what caused the blast, officials said.

A truck was supplying gas to the hospital when apparently a hose burst and the resulting leak caused an explosion, Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said.

The driver and two assistants delivering the gas to the hospital have been detained, Mancera’s office told CNNMexico. Two of the detained workers are hospitalized, and one is receiving other medical care, the office said.

The gas in question is known as liquefied petroleum gas, a mix that could be mostly propane or mostly butane. These propane/butane mixes are commonly used in Mexico for heating, cooking and other fuel applications.

The Red Cross reported that it provided 23 ambulances and more than 40 rescuers to the efforts. The agency said it transported nine babies to area hospitals.

Many others were being treated for cuts from flying glass after the blast, he said.

Cuajimalpa Maternal Hospital is on the southwest outskirts of Mexico City. It was founded in 1993 and is part of the city’s government health system.

Photos from the scene show that the gas truck belongs to Gas Express Nieto, a gas provider among the four biggest gas distributors in Mexico, according to the company.

Gas Express did not immediately comment on the explosion. Its Twitter account is private, and its Facebook page appeared to have been taken offline.

One of the city’s publicly accessible webcams captured the blast, showing a plume of smoke rising from the direction of the hospital.

Some witnesses reported seeing a fire burning at the hospital. Mancera said it was a controlled fire designed to burn off the leaking gas from the delivery truck.