The toll in the gas pipeline explosion in the Mexican state of Hidalgo rose to 73 on Saturday after five more bodies were recovered, reported AFP, quoting state Governor Omar Fayad. The blast had injured 74 people, he added.
The explosion on Friday night took place in Tlahuelilpan, a town about 129 km north of capital Mexico city. It was caused by an illegal tap used to steal fuel from the Tuxpan-Tula pipe, said state-run energy company Pemex.
Fayad said the condition of many of the injured was worsening and that some had burns on most of their body, Reuters reported. He added that some of the most badly injured minors could be moved to Texas in the United States for further treatment.
US Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen tweeted that her department “stands ready to assist the first responders and the Mexican government in any way possible”.
Defence Secretary Luis Crescencio Sandoval said authorities had sent an army unit of 25 soldiers to the site on Friday after they were informed about fuel traffickers having punctured the pipeline. The soldiers attempted to block the area but were unable to contain an estimated 700 civilians who gathered to collect the spilled fuel.
Sandoval said the soldiers were then moved away from the site to avoid any risk of confrontation with the crowd.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador visited the site early on Saturday and vowed to continue fighting the growing problem of fuel theft. “The attitude of the army was correct,” he said, refusing to blame the soldiers. “It is not easy to impose order on a crowd.”
Acting Attorney General Alejandro Gertz claimed the explosion was “intentional” because “someone caused that leak. And the fire was a consequence of the crime”.
The area was cordoned off after the explosion, with soldiers and military personnel guarding it. A team of forensic experts worked at the site and collected charred human remains in body bags. Authorities said the corpses were taken to a morgue.
Pemex’s Chief Executive Officer Octavio Romero said there had been 10 illegal fuel taps in the same municipality in the last three months alone.