Number of dead in Mexico pipeline explosion rises to 79: health minister

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Number of dead in Mexico pipeline explosion rises to 79: health minister
Mexico’s health minister said on Sunday that the number of people killed in a gasoline pipeline explosion has risen to 79.

Another 66 people remained hospitalized, Jorge Alcocer told a press conference. The blast occurred on Friday when up to 800 people flocked to collect gasoline at the Tula-Tuxpan pipeline that had been punctured by fuel thieves, officials said.

The blast occurred near Tlahuelilpan, a town of 20,000 people about an hour´s drive north of Mexico City.

As soldiers guarded the devastated, still-smoking scene, forensic specialists in white suits worked among the blackened corpses — many frozen in the unnatural positions in which they had fallen — and grim-eyed civilians stepped cautiously along in a desperate search for missing relatives.

The pungent smell of fuel hung in the air. Fragments of burnt clothing were strewn through the charred brush.

When the forensic workers began attempting to load corpses into vans to be transported to funeral homes, some 30 villagers tried to stop them. They demanded their relatives´ bodies, saying funeral homes were too expensive. The bodies were ultimately taken to a morgue, authorities said.

On Friday, when authorities heard that fuel traffickers had punctured the pipeline, an army unit of about 25 soldiers arrived and attempted to block off the area, Defense Secretary Luis Crescencio Sandoval told reporters.

But the soldiers were unable to contain the estimated 700 civilians — including entire families — who swarmed in to collect the spilled gasoline in jerrycans and buckets, witnesses said.

The armed soldiers had been moved away from the pipeline to avoid any risk of confrontation with the crowd when the blast occurred, some two hours after the pipeline was first breached, Sandoval said.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a leftist who took office only weeks ago, travelled to the scene early Saturday.

He did not fault the soldiers, saying, “The attitude of the army was correct. It is not easy to impose order on a crowd.” He vowed to continue fighting the growing problem of fuel theft.

“I am deeply saddened by the suffering in Tlahuelilpan,” Lopez Obrador wrote on Twitter. He called on his “whole government” to extend assistance.

The US Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, tweeted that her department “stands ready to assist the first responders and the Mexican government in any way possible.”

Video taken in the aftermath showed screaming people fleeing the scene as an enormous fire lit up the night sky.

“I went just to see what was happening, and then the explosion happened. I rushed to help people,” Fernando Garcia, 47, told AFP. “I had to claw through pieces of people who had already been burned to bits.”

The tragedy comes during a highly publicised federal government war on fuel theft, a problem that cost Mexico an estimated $3 billion in 2017.

Acting attorney general Alejandro Gertz described the latest disaster as “intentional” because “someone caused that leak. And the fire was a consequence of the crime.”

But he acknowledged that investigators would be hampered by the fact that “the people closest to the explosion died.”

Federal and state firefighters and ambulances run by state oil company Pemex rushed to help victims with burns and take the injured to hospitals.

Originally Posted on SuchTv

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