BOGOTA, Colombia -- A cocaine-processing laboratory exploded in Medellin yesterday morning, blasting an entire city block, killing eight people and injuring several dozen, according to authorities.
Medellin police said the lab operated in a house in a residential, middle-class area. More than 300 pounds of dynamite hidden inside the house also exploded. It was not clear whether the explosion was caused by the highly volatile chemicals that are used in cocaine laboratories or by the dynamite.
The city's rescue teams were combing through debris looking for more bodies or wounded people. Three of the bodies found were of children who neighbors said were playing on the sidewalk at the moment of the explosion.
Cocaine labs use ether, hydrochloric acid and acetone to transform cocaine paste into the cocaine powder that is sold in the United States. The labs also use microwave ovens to dry the powder.
Large-scale traffickers moved away from small, city-bound labs in the early 1980s to big outfits set up in the jungle areas of Colombia. But in recent months, several small labs have been found in cities, especially in Medellin, a central area of operation for the drug organization known as the Medellin cartel.
A few weeks ago, Medellin police dismantled another cocaine laboratory that was operating in a house within a central city area.
In that particular case, the house had been used as an office by the Colombian daily El Espectador until it was forced to close its Medellin operations in April, after drug traffickers shot dead the local distributor. El Espectador is a harsh critic of drug traffickers in Colombia.
Drug enforcement sources also have speculated that the traffickers may be being forced to move their product to smaller labs because of government sweeps against the large outfits in the Colombian countryside.