By Anthony Esposito
TLAHUELILPAN, Mexico (Reuters) – At the very least 66 folks had been killed after a pipeline ruptured by suspected gasoline thieves exploded in central Mexico, authorities mentioned on Saturday, as President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador defended the military regardless of its failure to clear the location earlier than the blast.
Forensic consultants crammed physique luggage with charred human stays within the discipline the place the fiery blast occurred Friday night by the city of Tlahuelilpan within the state of Hidalgo, in one of many deadliest incidents to hit Mexico’s troubled oil infrastructure in years.
Troopers and different army personnel guarded the cordoned-off space that was plagued by half-burned footwear, garments and containers that had been being utilized by folks to gather gasoline.
Grief-stricken relations blocked the dust entry street to the sphere, saying they might not let funeral service automobiles move till they had been advised the place the useless had been being taken.
“They need to give us a solution, if not, we’re not shifting,” mentioned Maria Isabel Garcia, 49, who was searching for two nieces. “They’ll need to drive the goddamn automobiles over us.”
The group ultimately let the automobiles by means of.
At a information convention with Lopez Obrador, Hidalgo State Governor Omar Fayad mentioned 66 folks had been killed and 76 folks injured within the explosion, which occurred as native residents scrambled to fill buckets and drums from a gush of gasoline from the pipeline that authorities mentioned rose as much as 23 ft (7 meters) excessive.
Veteran leftist Lopez Obrador launched a crackdown on gasoline theft on Dec. 27 and ordered pipelines to be closed quickly to cease unlawful faucets draining billions of from the heavily-indebted state oil agency Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex).
Video on social media confirmed folks filling buckets from the pipeline throughout daytime within the presence of the armed forces earlier than the blast. However Lopez Obrador, who vowed to proceed the crackdown on gasoline theft, defended the military within the face of questions on why troopers failed to forestall the tragedy.
“We’re not going to combat hearth with hearth,” he mentioned. “We predict that persons are good, trustworthy, and if we’ve reached these extremes … it’s as a result of they had been deserted.”
Lopez Obrador mentioned the military had been proper to keep away from a confrontation because of the giant variety of folks looking for to make off with a trove of free gasoline – a couple of liters of that are value greater than the day by day minimal wage in Mexico.
Blaming earlier governments for neglecting the inhabitants, he mentioned gasoline theft had been a continual drawback for years and that the precedence was to eradicate the social issues and lack of alternatives that had made folks put their lives in danger.
Nonetheless, Lopez Obrador had vowed to tighten safety in delicate sections of the oil infrastructure, and the ruptured pipeline was only some miles away from a significant oil refinery.
Pemex’s Chief Govt Octavio Romero advised reporters that there had been 10 unlawful gasoline faucets in the identical municipality within the final three months alone. Neither he nor the president mentioned precisely when the valves to the pipeline had been closed.
Family members of victims stood huddled collectively, a few of them crying, after the huge blast. A lot of the frenzy to siphon off gasoline and the chaos of the explosion was captured on cell phones and started shortly circulating on social media.
Native media revealed graphic photos of victims from the blast website lined in burns and shorn of their garments.
Lopez Obrador has mentioned his determination to close down pipelines to fight crime has drastically diminished gasoline theft. Nonetheless, it sparked fears for the economic system, in addition to triggering gasoline shortfalls in central Mexico, together with Hidalgo.
“There was a gasoline scarcity, folks a technique or one other needed to have the ability to transfer round,” mentioned farmer Ernesto Sierra, 44. “Some even got here with their bean pots.”
(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Writing by Dave Graham and Christine Murray; Modifying by Alexander Smith and Tom Brown)