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Resort blast kills 5 Canadians

Seven others from Canada hurt in gas explosion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/11/2010 (3600 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The restaurant area of the Grand Riviera Princess Hotel at Playa del Carmen, Mexico, lies in ruins after a massive gas explosion blew the premises apart Sunday.


The restaurant area of the Grand Riviera Princess Hotel at Playa del Carmen, Mexico, lies in ruins after a massive gas explosion blew the premises apart Sunday.

MEXICO CITY -- A groom in Mexico for his wedding, as well as a father and his young son, were among five Canadian tourists killed Sunday in a massive gas explosion at a hotel in Mexico.

The boy, three men and one woman died after the explosion at the Grand Riviera Princess Hotel, a sprawling complex in the beach-lined resort of Playa del Carmen on Mexico's Caribbean coast.

The blast also sent at least seven other Canadians to hospital with injuries.

James Gaade, from St. Catharines, Ont., told The Canadian Press he was walking on the beach when he heard a loud explosion and saw smoke coming from the platinum lounge, a part of the resort that costs extra.

He estimated about 50 to 70 per cent of more than 2,000 guests staying at the resort were Canadians and said he's met people from Ontario, Alberta, Winnipeg and Quebec.

"I looked and you could see that the roof (of the restaurant) had collapsed. There was a large crater in the area, debris," he said.

"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."

Francisco Alor, the attorney general for Quintana Roo state, identified the dead Canadians as father and son Paul Charmont Christopher, 51, and John Charmont, 9; groom Malcolm Johnson, 33, from Nanaimo, B.C.; Darlene Ferguson, 52, from the Edmonton area; and Elgin Aron.

"This brings the death toll to seven people -- five Canadians and two Mexicans. The Mexicans who died at the hotel were hotel employees. At the moment, there are seven Canadians injured," he told Postmedia News, adding two of them were in unstable condition.

"Tentatively, we are saying the explosion was caused by decomposition and accumulation of underground gas," Alor said. "Under no circumstances are we talking about an attack. It was a gas explosion and we are determining the causes."

Ferguson, an Edmonton-area grandmother who was in Mexico for her son's wedding, was walking with her two-year-old grandson when the blast went off nearby, said her brother, Barry Hoffman. Ferguson died in hospital.

"We heard she was injured," Hoffman said. "Then we heard one of her lungs collapsed. Then we heard she passed away on the operating table."

Family expect her injured grandson to survive, Hoffman said.

Most of Ferguson's family live in and around Edmonton and many were in Mexico for the wedding. "It's so terrible," he said. "So tragic."

Johnson, a Nanaimo, B.C., realtor, was in Mexico to get married when he was killed. His spouse survived the explosion.

Cancun hospital director Dr. Italo Sampablo told Postmedia News Sunday evening four wounded Canadians were in stable condition at his hospital.

Most of them were taken to hospital for fractured limbs and burns, he said, adding one was expected to undergo "a minor operation" to the spine.

Most of the Canadian patients should be out of the hospital by Tuesday, Sampablo said, but others could stay there as long as five days.

The blast shook the building around 9 a.m., tearing through one of the hotel's lobbies and bringing down a section of roof.

Peter Travers, a program director with a radio station, had been travelling with 60 Canadian tourists from Waterloo, Ont.

He told Postmedia News he was heading to breakfast Sunday morning when he heard "a large crash, as if someone had knocked over a heavy piece of furniture or something."

He said he heard one of the guests calling for medical help and helped carry some of the injured using pool deck chairs as stretchers.

"I saw four or five people being attended to. There was glass and debris everywhere."

"The guests were upset and unsettled," he said, but added none of the Canadians who were part of his group was hurt.

"Everybody in our group is safe and sound. We're relieved that we're all safe."

Others weren't so lucky, he said. He said he saw a family "receive the bad news that somebody they had loved had died, which is just a horrendous moment. Just a very, very sad moment."

A certain amount of confusion reigned on the scene in the moments after the blast, he said. Guests were later turned away from the immediate area, which remained a hive of activity throughout the day.

Video shot by Travers showing the aftermath of the explosion was widely posted online. Shot from an elevated vantage point, the footage showed a thatched roof at the front of one building partially collapsed and debris scattered around the structure. The injured can also be seen being treated by emergency personnel, with two ambulances parked nearby.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon issued a statement Sunday offering condolences to the family and friends of those killed.

"Canadian officials in Ottawa and in Mexico continue to monitor the impact of the explosion and remain in close contact with Mexican authorities," he said. "We are aware that a number of Canadians are staying at the Grand Riviera Princess and of reports of Canadian deaths and injuries."

WestJet Airlines Ltd. is working to identify about 400 WestJet Vacations guests staying at the huge resort, which accommodates more than 2,000 people, company spokesman Richard Bartrem said from Calgary.


-- Postmedia News, with files from The Canadian Press




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