Mexican television footage showed flames leaping into the night sky in the municipality of Tlahuelilpan, in Hidalgo state north of Mexico City, as people shouted and cried for help.
“The preliminary report I’ve been passed is very serious, they’re telling me 20 people have died, charred. 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” Hidalgo’s Governor Omar Fayad said. Images published on broadcaster Televisa showed people with severe burns from the blast as the government sent in ambulances and doctors to treat the victims.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has launched a major crackdown on rampant fuel theft, which the government said cost the country more than $3 billion last year. Governor Fayad said there were 71 people injured in the blast, 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.
The ruptured pipeline was near the Tula refinery of state oil firm Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), which in a statement blamed the incident on an illegal tap. Separate television footage showed the pipeline gushing a fountain of fuel earlier in the day and dozens of people at the site trying to fill buckets and plastic containers.