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Swamp gas theory after hotel blast

Investigators in Mexico are attempting to establish if a build-up of gas from a nearby swamp was to blame for a hotel blast that killed seven people.

Five Canadian tourists and two workers died in the explosion at the Grand Riviera Princess resort in Playa del Carmen, south of Cancun.

Playa del Carmen civil defence director Jesus Puc explained that the hotel was built over a mangrove swamp and new equipment will now be used to check for methane build-ups in other hotels in the area.

Puc revealed that no traces of gas had been detected in a recent inspection of the Grand Riviera Princess, but the equipment used was designed to detect butane used in cooking, not the methane gas emitted by swamps.

Asked how many resorts could be at risk, Puc said there are “many, many hotels in the area,” though “not all of them have such swampy areas.”

Environmental experts have differing views on the methane gas theory.

Roberto Iglesias, a biologist with the Ocean Sciences Institute of Mexico’s National Autonomous University, works on coral reefs and coastal environments in Puerto Morelos, not far from the resort of Playa del Carmen.

“We used to take students around outside and all you had to do was move the sediment a little, bubbles would come up and you could start flames when you lit them with a lighter,” Iglesias said, adding that builders frequently cover swampy areas with a layer of crushed rock and concrete, which acts as a stopper that accumulates gas.

“I hope the authorities pay more attention to this, because there are buildings constructed on top of mangroves all over,” he said.

But Gabriela Lima, the head of the environment department for Quintana Roo state, where the resort is located, said the swamp-gas theory “sounds a bit strange.”

“If that were the case, we’d have to see explosions throughout the Yucatan Peninsula every now and then, and we never have. This is something unique,” Lima told the AP. Lima said construction permits for the hotel, built four years ago, were in order, though Mexican law no longer permits removing mangrove.

Ecologist and environmental activist Robert Cudney called the explosion a predictable consequence of constructing resorts in the mangrove swamps that line the coast of the Riviera Maya.

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