Mexican city devastated by pipeline blast; 27 die

The blast in San Martin Texmelucan yesterday, estimated to have affected a five-km radius, scorched homes and cars and left metal and pavement twisted from the intense heat and in some cases burned to ash.

Relatives sobbed as firefighters pulled charred bodies from the incinerated homes, some of the remains barely more than piles of ashes and bones.Jose Luis Chavez, 58, who lives 10 blocks from the explosion, said he heard at least two loud booms and saw flames leap more than 30 feet in the air. He said it was as if a bomb had exploded underground."The explosions we had were very scary," Chavez said.

Aside from the deaths, at least 52 people were hurt and at least 200 were in shelters after fleeing San Martin, which is about 90 km east of Mexico City. More than 115 homes were scorched, 30 of them destroyed.

The explosion, which happened before dawn yesterday, was apparently caused by thieves trying to steal crude oil, said Valentin Meneses, interior secretary for the state of Puebla, where San Martin is located. Investigators found a hole in the pipeline and equipment for extracting crude, said Laura Gurza, chief of the federal Civil Protection emergency response agency.

"They lost control because of the high pressure with which the fuel exits the pipeline," he said, adding that the oil began to flow down the city's streets and into a nearby river.
Several bodies were found in cars near the location of the leak, but authorities didn't know if the dead were involved in the theft or just there by coincidence. The rupture occurred in an elevated part of the city, sending the crude running down a river bed more than  kilometer), Gurza said.

At some point a spark caused the crude to erupt into flames, though officials didn't know the origin of the spark.

Many of the buildings destroyed were humble two-story cement homes. Gurza said people are not permitted to live near oil pipelines, but Chavez and others indicated they had been in the area for some time.

President Felipe Calderon expressed his condolences to the families of the dead and his support for those injured and affected. He said the federal government would give its full support in investigating who was responsible and bringing them to justice.

The state-owned oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, said in a statement that it had shut down the pipeline. Government authorities said the fire was under control by midday, and fires were burning the remaining crude. The area was without electricity or water.

Comments (+)