MEXICO CITY – The death toll from the blast caused by an illegal pipeline tap in the central state of Hidalgo has climbed to 89, Mexican officials said Monday.
“From yesterday to today unfortunately we have had four more deaths, which added to the previously announced 85 made a total of 89 fatalities a 5 o’clock this morning,” Health Secretary Jorge Alcocer said.
Speaking at President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s daily morning press conference, Alcocer said that 51 other people hurt in the explosion remained hospitalized.
He said that two of the injured were taken Monday to a specialized hospital in Galveston, Texas.
“They have many chances for their lives to be saved, which is our first and only interest,” the secretary said.
The president would only say that the tragedy is “very painful.”
“We can’t say anything else, we’re trying to save lives and that’s the most important thing,” he said.
The blast occurred Friday night, hours after residents of the small town of Tlahuelilpan gathered near a pipeline to collect fuel after thieves drilled a hole in the duct.
Lopez Obrador has been waging a battle against the illegal trade in stolen fuel since taking office late last year, a crackdown that has caused widespread shortages at service stations.
Stealing fuel from pipelines owned by state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and re-selling it on the black market has become a major criminal enterprise in Mexico.
Theft of fuel from pipelines cost Mexico some $3.4 billion last year, the government says.
Since his Dec. 1 inauguration, Lopez Obrador has launched an all-out fight against this crime.
The president has deployed thousands of security forces members to bolster security at pipelines.
The administration also adopted a change in Pemex’s method for shipping gasoline and diesel from refineries to urban distribution centers, opting to transport more fuel via tanker trucks instead of pipelines.
The change has caused severe supply problems in at least 10 states and Mexico City, and led to the closing of service stations, panic purchases and attempts to sabotage pipelines.