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Death Toll Continues To Rise After Explosion At Mexican Oil Company

Rescue workers found the bodies of three more people over the weekend at the site of an explosion at the headquarters of Mexico's state oil monopoly. Authorities pledged a thorough and transparent investigation into the cause of the blast but no official explanation has been given. The deadly incident comes at a critical time for the new Mexican president, who has pledged to reform the notoriously inefficient state run company. And it's unfortunate timing for the company which is in need of foreign investors.

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The death toll has risen to 37 from last week's deadly explosion at the state oil company of Mexico. Over the weekend, rescuers pulled three more bodies from the headquarters of Pemex. Authorities still have not said what caused the deadly blast that injured more than 100 people. That's despite assurances that the investigation would be thorough and transparent. From Mexico City, NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

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CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: I'm standing at the Pemex headquarters complex in Mexico City, and it's a national holiday today, but there are still hundreds of workers here at the explosion site. They're sifting through the rubble and trying to pull out whatever they can from where the blast occurred, and they're throwing it onto a huge pile, and you just see tons of twisted metal, cables, computers, doors, windows, filing cabinets.

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KAHN: Even though it looks unlikely that they will pull out any other bodies, family members are still coming by the site in hopes of any information about their relatives.

MAYRA HERNANDEZ CARMONA: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: Mayra Hernandez Carmona says she still has hopes the rescue workers will find her aunt alive. She and her three sisters are taping flyers all along the fence surrounding the huge complex of buildings at the Pemex headquarters. The blast ripped through the bottom four floors of an administrative building where her aunt worked. I asked Hernandez what she was hoping to hear from authorities who have yet to say what caused the blast.

CARMONA: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: Results, she says, that's what we want, and Hernandez isn't alone. But without an official explanation, speculation is running wild in the press and on social media networks: Was the blast an electrical accident or a deliberate attack?

JESUS MURILLO KARAM: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: Last Friday, Mexico's attorney general insisted it would be just days before investigators would have answers, but so far, no results have been divulged. This is all unfortunate timing for Mexico's newly elected President Enrique Pena Nieto, says oil expert Miriam Grunstein, a professor at the CIDE think tank.

MIRIAM GRUNSTEIN: If this was an accident, it really calls upon the need to modernize Pemex.

KAHN: The oil monopoly has been plagued for years with that horrendous accident record, widespread corruption and antiquated infrastructure. Oil output at the state monopoly has been falling, and some experts say without the infusion of foreign investment, Mexico, one of the world's largest oil producers, may be importing oil by 2018. Grunstein says President Pena's administration had hoped to introduce new reforms that would open up Pemex to investors, but she says after this, that will be even more difficult since the dead workers are being hailed as heroes and victims.

GRUNSTEIN: And the fact that the government could come up with a legitimate cry for modernization might be largely attacked by the left saying, well, look, you're stepping on the dead bodies or of our working heroes to privatize this.

KAHN: Back at the Pemex headquarters, Javier Garcia, who owns the newspaper stand across the street, came to pay his respects to the workers who died.

JAVIER GARCIA: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: He says there are many hypotheses flying around these days. He just hopes authorities will be truthful about what caused the blast. But sadly, he says, he doesn't think that's going to happen. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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