Father and son among dead in Mexico

Father and son among dead in Mexico

A newly married groom, and a father and his young son were among the five Canadians killed in a horrific explosion at a Mexican resort.

Seven people were killed in the powerful blast shortly after 9:30 a.m. local time Sunday, at the 676-room Grand Riviera Princess Hotel in Playa del Carmen.

At a news conference in Montreal, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said another six Canadians were also injured in the blast, two of them in critical condition. Two Mexicans were also among the dead.

Following is a list of the Canadians killed in the explosion, according to a report from Mexican media citing Quintano Roo Attorney General Francisco Alor:

  • Malcolm Johnson, 33
  • Darlene Ferguson, 52
  • Christopher Charmont, 41
  • John Charmont, 9 (son of Christopher)
  • Elgin Barron

Malcolm Johnson, a realtor from Nanaimo, B.C., had travelled to Mexico for his wedding and was married a couple of days before the blast.

His new wife and their one-year-old daughter were with him in Mexico but were not injured.

Johnson’s mother said she spoke to him only a few days before the blast.

“We were Skyping and I was talking to my granddaughter, and the last thing I said to him was, ‘Malcolm, please be safe. I love you, please be safe, take care of that baby — I don’t want anything to ever happen to any one of you,”‘ Huolt told the Canadian Press Monday from Prince George, B.C.

“And he said, ‘OK, mom, I love you,’ and that was the last thing I said to him.”

Ferguson, a 51-year-old from Ardrossan, just outside of Edmonton, was in Mexico for her son’s wedding. According to reports she was walking with her two-year-old grandson when the blast occurred. She was rushed to hospital with serious injuries. However, Ferguson died in hospital. Her grandson is expected to make a full recovery.

Christopher Charmont was reported to be a devoted family man who lived in Drumheller, Alta. His son John, 10, was said to be a fun-loving boy who played hockey. His father was his team’s manager.

Crisis counsellors were at John Charmont’s school on Monday.

“It’s a personal loss for everyone,” Chris Connell, principal of Greentree Elementary School in Drumheller. “The younger kids they don’t fully understand what’s going on. It’s the older kids that feel the loss.”

The two were in Mexico on a family vacation and had gone down to the lobby to get a drink while Christopher’s wife Terra and their 11-year-old daughter, Megan, stayed in the room, said Tammi Garbutt, a family friend.

“My understanding was that they were in the room when this happened, that John and Chris had gone down to the lobby, they were getting a drink,” Garbutt told The Canadian Press.

“I don’t know if they had events planned for the day and were just waiting on the others. That, I don’t know.”

Elgin Barron was a motorcycle enthusiast from Guelph, Ont., and was described by neighbours as a friendly man you could depend on for help.

“Elgin was very quiet. He grew beautiful roses,” Paul Robinson, who lives across the street from Barron’s home, told The Canadian Press. “He had a motorcycle that he just loved to ride on the weekend.”

Witnesses describe devastation

The resort was hosting a large number of Canadians, many of whom were in attendance for a wedding and a company vacation.

One witness said the blast was so strong it sucked the air out of the thatched-roofed buildings and sent guests in nearby rooms and hallways flying.

Some who were staying at the resort described a scene of horrific devastation.

“We were eating breakfast and there was just a big kaboom. It was loud, really loud, it sounded like something crashed. I ran out and it was just a mess, a big mess,” said Goran Janjic, speaking to reporters after he landed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport Sunday night.

Janjic, who was in Mexico for a wedding, described a war zone-like scene.

“I ran over and there were people lying on the floor, people were dying. It was bad, there were hurt people, people cut up, sliced with big chunks of glass. It was bad,” he said.

Justin Izurieta, who was also staying at the resort, said there was “a giant boom,” the windows were shaking and there was a large dust cloud.

“All you saw was bodies on the floor and many people wounded. I was actually pretty scared and pretty sad to see the wounded and know they have family,” he said.

The hotel is still “running like normal” according to some guests.

A manager took CTV News on a tour of the hotel but avoided the part of the building where the blast took place.

“Everything is back to normal now,” the manager said when asked why he was avoiding that area.

While some guests chose to remain, a WestJet spokesperson said the more than 25 passengers chose to end their vacation early.

A plane carrying vacationers from the resort was due to land in Calgary late Monday night.

Mexico rules out terrorism

Cannon shied away from advising Canadians to avoid Mexico as a travel destination.

“All I say is that the government of Canada regularly posts advisory information on its website to those who travel to foreign countries,” Cannon told the news conference.

“In this case, obviously, the government of Mexico will be doing the analysis, but for all intents and purposes we understand that this is an accident.

Mexican officials were quick to rule out terrorism, saying the blast was caused by a build-up of natural gas, said CTV’s Omar Sachedina.

“They say there’s a swamp close to the hotel that emits natural gas, and that somehow there was a build-up of natural gas under one of the hotel lobbies and that it somehow ignited,” Sachedina told CTV’s Canada AM from Playa del Carmen.

The powerful explosion blew out windows and ceiling tiles and hurled paving stones as far as 50 metres from the epicentre. The force of the blast hurled the ground floor of the building through the ceiling.

Francisco Alor, attorney general of Quintana Roo, the state where the resort is located, said officials are looking into whether the building was properly constructed.

“Expert examiners and civil defence personnel will have to determine if the underground space filled with swampy water that remained in this zone when the building was constructed four years ago, could have generated this type of gases,” he said

Cannon issued a statement late Sunday, offering Canada’s condolences to the families of the victims and saying Ottawa was watching the situation closely.

More than one million Canadians visit Mexico every year.

People looking for information about friends and relatives who were staying at the hotel can contact the Foreign Affairs emergency operations centre by calling 1-800-387-3124. Inquiries can also be sent by email to [email protected]

With files from The Canadian Press