- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2007

PIEDRAS NEGRAS, Mexico — A dynamite-laden truck exploded after colliding with another vehicle on a busy highway in northern Mexico’s coal country, killing 34 persons and raising new concerns about plans to allow Mexican trucks on U.S. highways.

Authorities said the two vehicles collided Sunday evening, drawing a crowd of curious onlookers, as well as a small army of police, soldiers, emergency officials and journalists.

Shortly after the crowd arrived, the wreckage caught fire, and the dynamite exploded, sending a ball of fire into the sky that consumed nearby cars and left a 10-by-40-foot crater in the concrete, said Maximo Alberto Neri Lopez, a federal police official.

He said more than 150 people were injured in the blast near the Mexican city of Nadadores.

The accident occurred just hours after the first Mexican truck crossed the U.S. border under a pilot program to comply with part of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The truck crossed at about 1:50 a.m. at Laredo, Texas, and headed for North Carolina, according to a report from Trucker.com.

The program that would allow about 500 Mexican trucks on U.S. highways already faced opposition in Congress, where the Teamsters have lobbied to stop the measure.

Until now, Mexican trucks have been limited to a 25-mile zone along the border.

“My hope is the Senate will do as the House as done, and we will put the brakes on the pilot program,” said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat.

Mr. Dorgan has offered an amendment denying funding for the one-year program. The House passed similar legislation overwhelmingly in July.

The danger posed by trucks from Mexico was made clear by the explosion, the Teamsters said yesterday.

“Tomorrow will be the sixth anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil,” Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa said yesterday. “I don’t see how any patriotic American could vote to allow these dangerous trucks to cross our borders and travel freely throughout our country.”

The force of yesterday’s explosion blew out the windows of a passenger bus a quarter-mile away.

The dead included three newspaper reporters from the nearby city of Monclova, said Luis Horacio de Hoyos of the Coahuila state Attorney General’s Office.

It was not clear whether the explosive truck’s driver was among the dead. Early reports said he might have fled.

Coahuila state has a large mining industry, most of it in coal.

Randy Grider, editor of Truckers News magazine, however, said Mexican trucks with hazardous materials aren’t included in the new program.

“I think it would be a very long time before the border would open to hazardous loads,” he said.

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