Mexican agency disputes swamp gas theory

Mexican agency disputes swamp gas theory

A federal agency in Mexico is skeptical that the build-up of swamp gas could have caused the deadly hotel explosion in Playa del Carmen, saying that it is more likely that an operational malfunction is to blame.

A Sunday morning explosion at the Grand Riviera Princess Hotel killed five Canadian guests as well as two staff members. A father and son from Alberta, an Edmonton grandmother, a B.C. newlywed and an Ontario motorcycle enthusiast died in the blast. A hotel bartender and a guard were also among the dead.

While Mexican authorities have been quick to put forward the swamp gas theory, Gabriela Lima Laurents of the Environmental and Natural Resources Secretariat (Semarnat), said it seems likely that the explosion is linked to problems with the way the hotel was being run or maintained.

“I’m nearly 100 per cent sure that it was due to an operational problem in the hotel’s infrastructure, and not an accumulation of gas in underground caves,” Lima Laurents said Tuesday.

“If that was the case, not only (the state of) Quintana Roo but the entire (Yucatan) peninsula would be in danger to explode or would have already blown. I believe it has to do with a failing of the hotel, but that will have to be determined through a forensic investigation.”

The Canadian Press reports that several geological experts have indicated that they have never heard of such swamp gas-related incidents in the area where the hotel is located.

Shaken Canadians return home

On Tuesday morning, dozens of exhausted Canadians landed in Calgary, after WestJet brought at least two flights of Canadians home from the Grand Riviera Princess Hotel. They left behind a sunny climate in Mexico to return to a Canadian city where snowflakes were falling.

While few of the returning Canadians wanted to talk to reporters about what happened, those who did speak with the media described a scene of confusion in the aftermath of the blast.

Chris Davis said the explosion shook the door of his hotel room on Sunday morning.

“We heard a loud bang on our door. It sounded like someone had thrown their whole body weight against our door and we looked outside,” Davis told The Canadian Press.

“It was the same for everyone else who was in our end of the complex. Obviously it was a great tragedy,” he added.

Davis was also skeptical of the swamp gas theory.

“I’ve heard speculation about whether it was gas or there (were) smells in the area. It’s near a mangrove swamp but I suspect there was a small kitchen there,” he said.

“It’s likely it was benzine or propane. I didn’t smell anything so I’m sure the authorities will continue doing their investigation.”

Mark and Aicee Hagel said they weren’t told very much about what had happened, learning more about the extent of the devastation when they were flying home.

“You hear the word explosion but everyone seemed really calm. Actually we were wondering how serious it was because everything was continuing as it was in other parts of the resort so we didn’t think it was as serious,” Aicee Hagel told reporters after landing in Calgary on Tuesday.

“We actually heard more on the news on the plane home.”

In contrast to Davis, the Hagels believe the swamp gas could have been the cause, noting that they had noticed the smell of sewer gas near the toilet in their hotel room.

Meanwhile, in Drumheller, Alta., the local community is grieving the deaths of Chris Charmont and his nine-year-old son, John.

John attended Greentree Elementary School, where principal Chris Connell said both students and teachers are having a hard time adjusting to the news that he is gone.

“They are in shock right now and they are trying to deal with it the best they can,” Connell told CTV’s Canada AM from Drumheller on Tuesday morning.

Connell said John’s sister attends the same school and had told the principal how excited she was to be going on a trip to Mexico.

With files from The Canadian Press