At least 20 people were killed and 54 were injured on Friday when a pipeline ruptured by suspected fuel thieves exploded in central Mexico as people were trying to fill up containers, the government of Hidalgo state said.
Mexican television footage showed flames leaping into the night sky in the municipality of Tlahuelilpan to the 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,” Hidalgo state Governor Omar Fayad told Mexican television.
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 on Twitter there were more than 60 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.
“I urge the entire population not to be complicit in fuel theft,” Fayad said on Twitter. “Apart from being illegal, it puts your life and those of your families at risk.”
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 people moving in with containers.
Lopez Obrador expressed his concern on Twitter, and said he wanted “the entire government” to help people at the scene.
His crackdown on theft has significant public backing, though his decision to turn off pipelines to thwart the thieves caused significant disruptions to fuel supply in central Mexico and concern that the shortages could damage the economy.