A massive oil pipeline explosion has laid waste to parts of a central Mexican city, incinerating people, cars, houses and trees as gushing crude oil turned streets into flaming rivers.
At least 27 people were killed, 12 of them children, in a disaster authorities blamed on oil thieves.
The blast in San Martin Texmelucan, estimated to have affected a three-mile radius, scorched homes and cars and left metal and pavement twisted from the intense heat and in some cases burned to ash.
At least 52 people were hurt and more than 200 were in shelters after fleeing San Martin, which is about 55 miles east of Mexico City. More than 115 homes were scorched, 30 of them destroyed.
The explosion was apparently caused by thieves trying to steal crude oil, said Valentin Meneses, interior secretary for the state of Puebla, where San Martin is located. Investigators found a hole in the pipeline and equipment for extracting crude, said Laura Gurza, chief of the federal Civil Protection emergency response agency.
“They lost control because of the high pressure with which the fuel exits the pipeline,” he said, adding that the oil began to flow down the city’s streets and into a nearby river.
Several bodies were found in cars near the location of the leak, but authorities didn’t know if the dead were involved in the theft or just there by coincidence. The rupture occurred in an elevated part of the city, sending the crude running down a river bed more than half a mile, Ms Gurza said.
At some point a spark caused the crude to erupt into flames, though officials didn’t know the origin of the spark.
President Felipe Calderon arrived to talk with displaced people in a shelter and to survey damage on the main street where the fuel exploded. Earlier, he expressed condolences to the families of the dead and his support for those injured and affected. He said the federal government would give its full support in investigating who was responsible and bringing them to justice.
No one has yet been detained.