0817 GMT September 19, 2019
The blast at the pipeline, which was ruptured by suspected thieves, sent flames shooting into the skies in the municipality of Tlahuelilpan in the central state of Hidalgo on Friday, Reuters reported.
Dozens of burned bodies lay in the charred field as forensic experts inspected and photographed the remains. Soldiers and other military personnel surrounded the cordoned-off area.
The field was littered with half-burned shoes and clothes as well as with buckets and drums used by people to collect fuel. Relatives of victims stood huddled together, some crying.
Video footage showed residents scrambling to fill containers from the burst pipe and badly burned victims, raising questions about the management of an issue Lopez Obrador has made a top priority since taking office on Dec. 1.
Veteran leftist Lopez Obrador launched a crackdown on fuel theft on Dec. 27 and ordered pipelines to be closed temporarily to stop illegal taps draining billions of dollars from the heavily-indebted state oil firm Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex). The problem cost Mexico an estimated $3 billion in 2017.
“Far from stopping the fight ... against fuel theft, it’s going to become stronger, we’ll continue until we’ve eradicated these practices,” Lopez Obrador, who has said he will step up the security presence in sensitive areas, said.
Video on social media of people filling buckets from the pipeline during daylight hours in the presence of the armed forces prompting questions about why authorities had not acted.
The government said soldiers reached the scene after Pemex detected the illegal tap, but could not secure the area in time.
“At some point there were too many people there and the army and military personnel withdrew to avoid problems,” Public Security Minister Alfonso Durazo told broadcaster Televisa. “It was just as they were withdrawing that the explosion occurred.”