Mexico: Death toll from gas tanker explosion rises to 22

A gas tanker exploded into a ball of flames in a suburb of Mexico City on May 7, 2013, killing at least 19 people and injuring three dozen others. Vehicles and houses near the scene of the accident also caught fire.

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — The death toll from a gas tanker explosion in Mexico City on Tuesday has risen to 22, with half the victims belonging to one family. 

Dozens more were injured when the double trailer gas tanker truck crashed and exploded into a ball of flames on a main highway on the edge of Mexico City, igniting 16 cars and 45 houses.

Pope Francis sent his condolences to the victims and their families, El Universal reported.

Milenio newspaper reported 11 of the people killed belonged to one family. A family of four, including two children aged 11 and 6, are also among the dead.  

CNN put the death toll at 23. 

Police said the truck's driver was traveling at a high speed in the pre-dawn darkness when it slammed into a retention wall, the second of its two trailers flipping and sliding into houses closely abutting the busy highway in Ecatepec, a teeming working-class city on the Mexican capital's northeast fringe.

The driver, who has been identified as Juan Olivares, 36, is among those hospitalized. 

Jose Luis Cervantes, an assistant state prosecutor, told the Associated Press that Olivares was driving south from the city of Pachuca when he apparently lost control of his vehicle. 

The eight-lane toll highway — which was reportedly recently widened, bringing traffic within a few steps of some of the cinderblock homes damaged in the blast — is a major artery that connects the Mexican capital to the country's Gulf Coast. 

"It was a ball of fire which exploded as though they'd put a spotlight in the whole window," resident Carlos Gonzalez Silva told Mexican radio, Reuters reported.

"We opened the door and it was like fire had blown through the whole of the garden."

El Universal published photos showing the charred wreckage dozens of buildings and vehicles.

The accident in Ecatepec comes little more than three months after a mysterious explosion — officially blamed on leaking methane gas — hit the Mexico City headquarters of Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, the national oil company. That blast killed 38 people and injured scores more.

A 5 a.m. explosion in December 2010 of a pipeline carrying refined petroleum products east of Mexico City killed 27 people and injured another 52. Authorities blamed the blast on thieves tapping the pipeline.

A 1984 pre-dawn blast at an LPG storage facility not far from Ecatepec killed as many as 600 people and injured thousands more. In 1992, other petroleum distillates reportedly leaked during a theft operation and exploded in the sewer systems of Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city, killing more than 200 and injuring 1,400 people.