Mexico pipeline blast death toll rises to 79

Clay Curtis
January 21, 2019

By Saturday evening the death toll had risen to 71, according to Hidalgo Gov. Omar Fayad.

Mexican authorities now put the number killed in Friday night's fuel pipeline blast at 66, with scores more injured.

It is believed the explosion occurred after the line was ruptured by suspected fuel thieves in the town of Tlahuelilpan, in Hidalgo state.

Just a few feet from where the pipeline passed through an alfalfa field, the dead seem to have fallen in heaps, perhaps as they stumbled over each other or tried to help one another as the geyser of gasoline turned to flames.

Pipeline owner Petróleos Mexicanos (Mexican Petroleum) known as Pemex, says "The explosion in Tlahuelilpan, Hidalgo was derived from the manipulation of a clandestine takeover for fuel theft in the Tuxpan-Tula pipeline".

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador traveled to the scene early Saturday.

"I am deeply saddened by the suffering in Tlahuelilpan", Lopez Obrador wrote on Twitter.

It is now likely to further intensify efforts to crack down on the illegal taps and focus attention on Lopez Obrador's fight against the $3 billion per-year illegal fuel theft industry. Since they began reopening it on January 16 it had been hit four times he said. "The older men brought him", he said.

Pemex chief executive officer Octavio Romero on Saturday said a valve had been closed at the pipeline once a drop in pressure from the leak had been noted, but he did not say at what time that happened.

Mexico is regularly rocked by deadly explosions at illegal pipeline taps, a unsafe but lucrative business whose players include powerful drug cartels and corrupt Pemex insiders. Two hours later, the pipeline burst into flames. A fire after a pipeline rupture in Brazil killed more than 500 people in 1984.

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"Part of the blame goes to the people [at the ruptured pipeline] but the bigger blame lies with authorities who let them go there knowing it was risky", said Velasco, the farmer.

The policy has led to increased reliance on tanker deliveries and there have been widespread reports of fuel shortages and long lines at petrol stations.

Video footage showed dozens of residents in an nearly festive atmosphere as whole families gathered in a field as a geyser of fuel spouted dozens of feet into the air from the tap.

The president, who took office on December 1, has vowed to keep up the fight and asked Mexicans to be patient.

As many as 700 people had converged on the site with buckets and drums to collect gasoline when the explosion occurred.

He also lashed out at the army for failing to stop the looters.

Lopez Obrador said the soldiers told villagers not to get close, but that they were ignored. "They never did anything".

Officials say 25 military personnel arrived on the scene soon after the pipeline started spewing fuel on Friday.

Mexican bank Citibanamex estimated Wednesday that the shortages would cost Latin America's second-largest economy around $2 billion, "if conditions return to normal in the coming days".

What is the fuel theft problem?

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