Sixty-seven people have lost their lives while 75 others have been left injured in a pipeline explosion that rocked a town in Mexico on Saturday. According to state-run oil company Pemex, the devastation occurred after fuel thieves allegedly punctured the gas pipeline which later resulted in the explosion. The country’s health minister, Jorge Alcocer, told journalists that those injured are in critical condition, per CNN.
The incident took place in Hidalgo state, central Mexico, which is situated about 120 kilometers north of Mexico City, according to a report by the Guardian. Footage which emerged on early Saturday showed gasoline gushing out of the pipeline and several people queuing up to collect it in large containers. However, a fireball was later witnessed shooting into the sky after which screams could be heard as people tried to flee from the site of the explosion.
The tragic accident took place amid fuel crisis in several Mexican states, including Mexico City, where gas stations had been unable to meet the fuel demands of the public for the last two weeks. The shortage occurred as the country’s new President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, ordered to close some major pipelines in the country to crack down on fuel thefts that have been plaguing the country for the past few years.
Following the explosion, President Obrador took to Twitter and sent his condolences to the families of the victims and instructed the concerned authorities to control the fire and attend to the victims.
— La Silla Rota (@lasillarota) January 19, 2019
Later on, he also visited the site and stressed the need to tighten measures against fuel theft that caused the tragic incident on Saturday. Per the report, he said the following.
“Far from stopping the fight… against fuel theft, it’s going to become stronger, we’ll continue until we’ve eradicated these practices.”
Victims’ families and eyewitnesses told the Guardian that despite knowing that the gasoline is highly explosive, many people went near the pipeline to fill the containers because they were young and failed to realize the risks.
Lamento mucho la grave situación que se padece en Tlahuelilpan por la explosión de un ducto. Estoy en Aguascalientes y, desde que el director de Pemex y el secretario de Defensa me informaron, di instrucciones para que se controle el fuego y se atienda a las víctimas.
— Andrés Manuel (@lopezobrador_) January 19, 2019
And while the majority of the Mexican public backed the president’s crackdown on oil theft, some opponents called the move ill-considered and improvised, The Guardian report said.
Authorities had previously blamed oil thieves for a similar accident that took place in December 2010. At the time, a gas pipeline exploded in central Mexico, killing 28 people and leaving 52 others injured. Per the report, apart from the loss of lives, the explosion also scorched homes and affected 5,000 residents in the area of the explosion.