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PEMEX LPG Terminal, Mexico City, Mexico. 19th November 1984

Accident summary

At approximately 05:35 hours on 19 November 1984 a major fire and a series of catastrophic explosions occurred at the government owned and operated PEMEX LPG Terminal at San Juan Ixhuatepec, Mexico City. As a consequence of these events some 500 individuals were killed and the terminal destroyed.

Three refineries supplied the facility with LPG on a daily basis. The plant was being filled from a refinery 400 km away, as on the previous day it had become almost empty. Two large spheres and 48 cylindrical vessels were filled to 90% and 4 smaller spheres to 50% full.

A drop in pressure was noticed in the control room and also at a pipeline pumping station. An 8-inch pipe between a sphere and a series of cylinders had ruptured. Unfortunately the operators could not identify the cause of the pressure drop. The release of LPG continued for about 5-10 minutes when the gas cloud, estimated at 200 m x 150 m x 2 m high, drifted to a flare stack. It ignited, causing violent ground shock. A number of ground fires occurred. Workers on the plant now tried to deal with the escape taking various action. At a late stage somebody pressed the emergency shut down button.

About fifteen minutes after the initial release the first BLEVE occurred. For the next hour and a half there followed a series of BLEVEs as the LPG vessels violently exploded. LPG was said to rain down and surfaces covered in the liquid were set alight. The explosions were recorded on a seismograph at the University of Mexico.

Failings in technical measures


Lees, F.P., ‘Loss Prevention in the Process Industries – Hazard Identification, Assessment and Control’, Volume 3, Appendix 4, Butterworth Heinemann, ISBN 0 7506 1547 8, 1996.

Marsh and McLennan, ‘Large Property Damage Losses in the Hydrocarbon-Chemical Industries a thirty-year Review’, 16th Edition, Marsh and McLennan Protection Consultants, 1995.