Mexico pipeline explosion kills at least 71 people

Pipeline ruptured by suspected fuel thieves, officials say

Eleanor Busby@Eleanor_Busby
Saturday 19 January 2019 14:41
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Aerial footage shows scene of deadly pipeline fire in Mexico

At least 71 people have been killed after a pipeline exploded in central Mexico.

More than 85 other people were listed as missing a day after the blaze in the town of Tlahuelilpan, in Hidalgo state, around 62 miles north of Mexico City.

The pipeline was ruptured by suspected fuel thieves, according to state and federal authorities.

Dozens of people had been trying to fill up buckets, plastic jugs and garbage cans with spilling petrol when the fire broke out on Friday evening, officials said.

Mexican television footage showed large flames and screaming people running away from the blaze.

Images showed people at the scene with severe burns as the government sent in ambulances and doctors to treat the victims.

It came just weeks after new president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador launched a major crackdown on fuel theft, which the government has said cost the country more than $3bn (£2.3bn) last year.

Hidalgo state police said the leak was first reported at about 5pm local time.

“Residents were on the scene trying to obtain fuel,” according to a police report. Two hours later, the pipeline burst into flames.

Marciel Cervantes fears his brother, Isaac Aurelio Cervantes, is among those lost in Friday’s blast. He found the 26-year-old’s car parked on the road next to the field, and said his brother has not answered his phone.

The ruptured pipeline was near the Tula refinery of Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned company, which in a statement blamed the incident on illegal tapping.

And another pipeline burst into flames in the neighbouring state of Queretaro on Friday, because of an illegal tap. However, Pemex said the fire near San Juan del Rio posed “no risk to human beings”.

Firefighters work to extinguish the Tlahuelilpan blaze (AFP/Getty)

The explosion in Tlahuelilpan was one of the worst in recent history in a country that has suffered hundreds of illegal ruptures to its network of oil and gas pipelines.

Omar Fayad, Hidalgo’s governor, warned that the number of victims could still rise depending on what emergency services discovered where the blaze had been hottest.

On Twitter, Mr Fayad said: “I urge the entire population not to be complicit in fuel theft. Apart from being illegal, it puts your life and those of your families at risk.”

Mr Lopez Obrador tweeted: “I greatly lament the grave situation Tlahuelilpan is suffering because of the explosion of the duct.” He called on all branches of government to assist the victims.

The president, who took office in December, has deployed 3,200 marines to guard pipelines and refineries as part of his crackdown on illegal taps.

His administration has also shut down pipelines to detect and deter illegal taps, relying more on delivering fuel by tanker truck.

However, there are not enough trucks, which has caused long lines at gas stations in several states.

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Mr Lopez Obrador, who has said he will step up the security presence in sensitive areas, said: “Far from stopping the fight ... against fuel theft, it’s going to become stronger, we’ll continue until we’ve eradicated these practices.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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