A Mexican man who "crucified" himself for 17 hours in this Gulf coast port city to demand payment of an insurance claim was hospitalized Thursday after showing symptoms of a possible heart attack and signs of gangrene on his hands.

Red Cross spokespersons said medical personnel decided shortly after 11:00 a.m. to remove the nails from the hands of Sergio Manuel Vargas Mortera, who had begun his protest shortly before 6:00 p.m. Wednesday in Veracruz's main square.

The paramedics, who had been administering fluids to the man intravenously, said he showed pre-heart attack symptoms early Thursday and that an inspection of his hands revealed signs of gangrene.

Vargas was rushed to a Veracruz hospital despite his earlier vow not to end the protest until the insurance subsidiary of BBVA Bancomer - Mexico's largest financial institution - compensated him for damage caused to his home two years ago by Hurricane Karl.

Moments before lying down on a wooden cross and having his hands pierced with metal nails with the aid of another individual, Vargas said the firm had refused to cover the cost of the repairs and that he was opting for that extreme form of protest to call the attention of Veracruz state authorities.

Karl made landfall near Veracruz in September 2010 as a devastating Category 3 hurricane.

The powerful storm was blamed for 15 deaths, forced 40,000 people to seek refuge in temporary shelters and caused property damage in 62 municipalities.

A total of 500,000 people were reportedly affected by the hurricane.

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