MEXICO CITY (AP) – A massive fireball that engulfed people scooping up fuel spilling from a pipeline ruptured by thieves in central Mexico killed 21 people and badly burned 71 others in what was a chronicle of a tragedy foretold.
It came just three weeks after new President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador launched an offensive against fuel theft gangs that drilled dangerous, illegal taps into pipelines an astounding 12,581 times in the first 10 months of 2018, an average of about 42 per day.
With crowds of townspeople often involved, either aiding thieves or collecting spilled fuel in primitive containers, it was only a matter of time before a fire occurred.
In fact, they have occurred before, but seldom with the scale and horrifying death toll of Friday’s fire in the state of Hidalgo, which came as people collected the spilled gasoline in buckets, plastic jugs and garbage cans.
The leak was caused by an illegal pipeline tap in the small town of Tlahuelilpan, about 62 miles north of Mexico City, according to state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex.