Fuel Thieves are believed to have caused a spark that lead to a blast leaving at least 23 people dead on Sunday. Thieves tampered with the oil pipeline causing a leak that quickly burst into a fireball that wrecked cars and flattened homes in San Martin Texmelucan, a small community in the state of Puebla about 50 miles 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.
The state-owned oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, said in a statement that it had shut down the pipeline. Government authorities said the fire was under control by midday, but the area was without electricity or water.
“A drop in pipeline pressure was noticed ... minutes later Pemex reported a fire in two fuel ducts,” the state enterprise said in a statement. “A secret tap was the possible cause.”
Fuel theft is rampant in the Pemex network as hundreds of millions of dollars worth of combustible fuel have been stolen in recent years, the company has said. In 2009, the U.S. Justice Department said U.S. refineries bought millions of dollars worth of oil stolen from Mexican government pipelines and smuggled it across the border in illegal operations led by Mexican drug cartels expanding their reach.
The explosion killed at least 23 people and injured 51, Pemex said. It also destroyed 32 houses and damaged dozens more, Meneses added.