Oil pipeline blast rattles Mexico town, kills 27

MEXICO CITY, (Reuters) – Fuel thieves tampering with  an oil pipeline could have sparked a deadly blast in central  Mexico that flooded streets with fire and killed at least 27  people before dawn yesterday, officials said.

The accident occurred just before 6 a.m. (1200 GMT) when  oil spilling from a breached pipeline quickly burst into a  fireball that flattened homes and wrecked cars in San Martin  Texmelucan, a small community in the state of Puebla about 50  miles (75 km) east of Mexico City.

“Several streets were flooded with fuel. With a spark,  there was a river of fire,” said Valentin Meneses, interior  minister of the state of Puebla.

Photos and video from the scene showed burned-out homes,  charred vehicles and scorched ground around the moderately  populated outskirts of the town.

Pemex, the state oil monopoly that controls the pipeline,  said fuel thieves could have touched off the deadly explosion  that was quickly controlled after the initial detonation.

“We are not discounting mechanical problems but, on the  other hand, we have had problems with illegal taps this year  including along that stretch” of pipe, said Pemex chief Juan  Jose Suarez.

Fuel theft is rampant in the Pemex network and hundreds of  millions of dollars worth of fuel have been stolen in recent  years, the company has said.

“President (Felipe) Calderon has ordered an investigation  to determine who was responsible and apply the full weight of  the law,” the president’s office stated, pointing to the early  indications of an illegal tap.

Pemex was alerted to pipeline trouble when a pumping  station reported a sudden pressure drop and halted the flow of  oil, the company said in a statement.

“Minutes later, (we) detected a fire in two of those  ducts,” Pemex said.
The explosion and ensuing oil fire kicked up a blanket of  smoke that hovered over the town through the early morning  hours as soldiers arrived to aid local firefighters and rescue  teams.

Among the 27 dead are 12 children, officials said, while 51  people are injured. The explosion also destroyed 32 houses with  about 70 more homes damaged, according to officials.

The explosion occurred in a residential neighbourhood which  is not near major oil refining or transportation facilities,  according to local media reports.

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