Mexican oil pipeline blast kills 28

A pipeline operated by Mexico's state-owned oil company exploded in the central state of Puebla early Sunday, killing 28 people and creating "rivers of fire" as thieves were suspected of trying to steal crude oil.

'We saw rivers of fire in the streets'

Firefighters work next to burnt cars and a house Sunday at the site of an explosion of a Pemex pipeline in San Marti­n Texmelucan, Mexico. ((Imelda Medina/Reuters))
A pipeline operated by Mexico's state-owned oil company exploded in the central state of Puebla early Sunday, killing 28 people and creating "rivers of fire" as thieves were suspected of trying to steal crude oil.

State spokesman Noe Torres said the explosion happened around 5:30 a.m. ET at a Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) duct.

Torres said the initial explosion in San Martin Texmelucan, with a population of 130,000, was followed by four smaller blasts. The resulting spill had a five-kilometre radius and affected 5,000 residents.  No one has been arrested.

Civil protection authorities said the explosions and fire injured at least 52 people and damaged more than 115 homes. Of the 28 people who died, 13 were children.

Several bodies were found in cars near the location of the leak, but authorities didn't know if the dead were involved in the alleged oil theft or just there by coincidence.

Hundreds of people fled the town, 75 kilometres east of Mexico City, to escape the flaming fuel. By late Sunday, 84 remained in shelters after leaving San Martin Texmelucan.

"We saw rivers of fire in the streets," Valentin Meneses, interior secretary for the state of Puebla, where San Martin Texmelucan is located, told Milenio Television.

Flowed down streets

The alleged thieves "lost control because of the high pressure with which the fuel exits the pipeline," he said, adding that oil began to flow down the city's streets and into a nearby river.

President Felipe Calderon arrived late Sunday afternoon to talk with displaced people in a shelter, visit the injured in a hospital and survey damage on the main street where the fuel exploded.

Earlier, he expressed his condolences to the families of the dead and his support for those injured and otherwise affected. He said the government would give its full support in investigating who was responsible and bringing them to justice.

Pemex said it has shut down the pipeline. Government authorities said the fire was under control by midday, and fires were burning the remaining crude. Some areas were without electricity or water.

Pemex has struggled with chronic theft, losing as much as 10 per cent of its products.

Criminals tap remote pipelines, sometimes building pipelines of their own, to siphon off hundreds of millions of dollars worth of oil each year, Pemex has said.