A small settlement catering to travelers along a nearby bridge to the United States was reduced to little more than smoldering rubble when a tanker truck collided with a train, killing two people and injuring at least 44.
Witnesses said they heard two large explosions Thursday followed by a series of smaller ones, with gusts of fire ripping through cement-wall homes and blasting off corrugated metal roofing.
“It was terrible. It was like an earthquake,” said Jorge Batres, describing how flames spread to nearby cars, shops and houses. “All is destroyed.”
The truck owned by Techno Gas of Monterrey, Mexico, was hauling two tank loads of liquid petroleum gas. Witnesses say the truck failed to stop when the train sounded. The collision occurred about 3:20 p.m.
One tank exploded and the other seeped gas through a puncture, fueling flames that took a team of Mexican and Texas firefighters hours to extinguish.
Orlando Garcia, director of emergency services for Matamoros, Mexico, said the driver of the truck and the train’s engineer died. He said the most severely injured were taken to hospitals in Monterrey. Others were taken to hospitals in Matamoros and across the border to Harlingen, Texas. It took several hours to find all the injured.
Nancy Guerrero, 21, was injured as she tried to escape the fire.
“When it hit, there was a fireball, and she was running to the house, but she was burned — her arms and feet and back and hair,” said Teresa Guerrero, her 29-year-old sister, as medical workers wrapped Nancy Guerrero’s arms and feet in the back of an ambulance bound for a Matamoros hospital.
The settlement is in the middle of farm and grazing land on the outskirts of Matamoros, with not much more than a few shops selling crafts and snacks to passers-by.
With no water lines, Texas fire crews had to ferry water trucks back and forth to a hydrant near the international bridge at Los Indios, filling portable tanks to keep the hose filled until the flames were out.
Mexican crews worked the southern side of the wreck.
“It’s a mutual aid agreement — we help each other out,” said Joseph Horn of the Brownsville Fire Department.
At least a dozen structures were gutted by the blasts, with blackened stoves and wash tubs left standing amid crumbling walls.
Alfonso Lucero, owner of two craft shops and a money exchange, surveyed what has been his businesses. The crafts he sold from around Mexico looked as though they had been smashed by a giant hammer. He wasn’t there when the blast occurred, but his three employees were all in the hospital.
“It’s the fault of one person that had tremendous responsibility and didn’t carry it out,” he said.