Aftermath of Mexican pipeline catastrophe

Aftermath of Mexican pipeline catastrophe

Aftermath of Mexican pipeline catastrophe

Written by Reuters

21 Jan, 2019 | 11:30 am

Reuters – Friends and family began saying their final farewells on Sunday (January 20) to victims of a gasoline pipeline blast that has killed at least 79 people.

Fuel thieves punctured the Tula-Tuxpan pipeline a few miles from one of Mexico’s main refineries on Friday (January 18). Up to 800 people flocked to fill plastic containers from the 7-meter (23-ft) gasoline geyser that ensued, officials say. A couple of hours later, it erupted in flames in a powerful explosion.

Half a dozen people interviewed by Reuters on Saturday (January 19) said their relatives went to the leaking duct in Tlahuelilpan district in Hidalgo state because they struggled to find fuel elsewhere and were desperate to fill up cars to get to work or run their farms.

On Sunday, a steady stream of funerals began for the victims while others continued searching for their loved ones.

Many people are posting signs with photos, names and descriptions.

Javier Cervantes is looking for his brother Isaac and his combing hospitals and morgues with no luck. Ema Olvera is looking for her 13-year-old brother who was at the scene of the explosion, but hasn’t found any leads.

Late last month, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador launched a programme to shut down an illegal fuel distribution network that siphons off about $3 billion dollars worth of fuel annually from state oil firm Pemex.

The plan, which called for shutting pipelines targeted by thieves, led to widespread gasoline shortages in central Mexico this month, including in Hidalgo, north of Mexico City.

Lopez Obrador said on Sunday that the disaster had not weakened his resolve to fight fuel theft.

The tragedy in Tlahuelilpan, however, has brought renewed scrutiny of the strategy. Lopez Obrador has repeatedly been asked why soldiers deployed to guard the duct did not chase people away from the leak, and how quickly the pipeline was shut down after Pemex detected the rupture.

Pemex closed a valve at the pipeline after noting a drop in pressure from the leak, Pemex Chief Executive Officer Octavio Romero said at a press conference on Saturday. Pemex was aware of the leak at 4:50 p.m. (2250GMT), but did not say at what time the valve was shut, he added.

Fuel spurted from the pipeline for around two hours after Pemex alerted other authorities to the leak, with no visible loss of pressure, before the explosion.

Lopez Obrador said prosecutors will investigate, but that even if the valve were closed immediately there still would have been 10,000 barrels of high octane gasoline in the section of pipeline between the Tula refinery and the village.

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