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article imageExplosion from illegal pipeline tap kills 66 people in Mexico

By Karen Graham     Jan 19, 2019 in World
A massive fireball that engulfed people scooping up fuel spilling from a pipeline ruptured by thieves in Tlahuelilpan, Mexico, on Friday. The body count has reached 66 people with at least 78 left badly burned.
The explosion comes about three weeks after Mexico's new President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador launched his government's fight against corruption and gasoline thefts which had become a massive black-market industry under previous governments, involving powerful drug cartels and corrupt Pemex insiders.
The Pemex pipeline in Hidalgo exploded at the site of an illegal tap just a few feet from an alfalfa field, said Omar Fayad, governor of the Mexican state. The dead had fallen in heaps as if trying to get out or perhaps help others. The explosion was first reported about 5:00 p.m. local time on Friday.
A video shows dozens of people close to where a geyser of fuel spouted dozens of feet into the air from the tap. The footage then shows flames shooting high into the air against a night sky and the pipeline ablaze. Screaming people ran from the flames, some burning and waving their arms, according to the Associated Press.
“Ay, no, where is my son?” wailed Hugo Olvera Estrada, whose 13-year-old son, Hugo Olvera Bautista, was at the spot where the fire erupted. After returning from school Friday, the boy went to join others in scooping up the gasoline. Olvera Estrada believes his son was influenced by older men. “The older men brought him,” he said.
The state-owned oil company, Pemex, said the explosion was caused by an illegal pipeline tap. Pemex deployed 11 ambulances, 13 emergency medics and two specialists to assist.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is waging a major crack-down on fuel theft. The corruption has reached the highest levels in the oil company, with Army general Eduardo Leon Trauwitz, the man who was charged with fighting the large-scale tapping of Pemex's pipelines by Mexican gangs, now under investigation.
"He's on a list of people who are being investigated in relation to this, although there is nothing definitive yet," Lopez Obrador told a press conference. Fuel theft has ballooned in Mexico in recent years, from 186 pipeline thefts in 2012 to 10,363 in 2017, according to Pemex.
It's unclear whether Friday's tragedy will turn the tide of opinion against the gangs in the impoverished villages that lie above the underground pipelines.
More about Explosion, pemex, Gulf of Mexico, illegal pipeline tap, stealing gas
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