Death toll rises to 85 in Mexico pipeline blast | Eurasia Diary - ednews.net

24 April, Wednesday


Death toll rises to 85 in Mexico pipeline blast

The blast occurred as fuel thieves were illegally tapping an oil pipeline in a small town in the Mexican state of Hidalgo.

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An explosion and fire in central Mexico killed at least 73 people after hundreds swarmed to the site of an illegal fuel-line tap to gather gasoline amid a government crackdown on fuel theft, officials said.

Hidalgo state governor Omar Fayad announced that the toll had increased to 73 after the discovery of five additional bodies.

The blast -- which Fayad said injured 74 people -- occurred near Tlahuelilpan, a town of 20,000 people about an hour's drive north of Mexico City.

Tapping pipelines

Forensic experts inspected and photographed the remains while soldiers and other military personnel guarded the cordoned-off area that was littered with half-burned shoes, clothes and containers used by people to collect fuel.

The leak was caused by fuel thieves illegally tapping the pipeline in a small town in the state of Hidalgo, about 100 kilometres north of Mexico City, according to state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex.

Video footage showed dozens of residents near the town of Tlahuelilpan gathered to collect spilled fuel in buckets, garbage cans and other vessels.

Fuel was seen spouting dozens of feet into the air from the tap. Footage then showed flames shooting high into the air and the pipeline ablaze.

Pemex attributed the blaze to "the manipulation of an illegal tap."

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has declared an offensive against fuel theft, and on Friday he called on all branches of government to assist the victims.

"I am deeply saddened by the suffering in Tlahuelilpan," Lopez Obrador wrote on Twitter. He called on his "whole government" to extend assistance.

Hidalgo state police said the leak was first reported at about 5:00 pm local time.

"There was a report that residents were on the scene trying to obtain fuel," according to a police report. Two hours later, the pipeline burst into flames.

Journalist Valeria Leon Cavagna has more on the incident.

Mexico's fuel-theft epidemic

It is not the first time such an accident has occurred.

In December 2010, authorities blamed oil thieves for a pipeline explosion in a central Mexico near the capital that killed 28 people, including 13 children.

That blast burned people and scorched homes, affecting 5,000 residents in an area 10 kilometres (six miles) wide in San Martin Texmelucan.

Lopez Obrador launched an offensive against the $3 billion per-year fuel theft industry after taking office Dec. 1. Thieves drilled about 12,581 illegal taps in the first 10 months of 2018 and the country has deployed 3,200 marines to guard pipelines and refineries.

The new administration has also shut down pipelines to detect and deter illegal taps, relying more on delivering fuel by tanker truck. But there aren't enough trucks, and long lines continued on Wednesday at gas stations in several states.

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