MEXICO CITY – The death toll from a pipeline explosion in central Mexico caused by an illegal tap has risen to 95 in recent hours, officials said Wednesday.
“The 93 dead I mentioned yesterday (Tuesday) plus two more make 95 dead,” Health Secretary Jorge Alcocer said.
Forty-four others injured in the blast in Tlahuelilpan – a small town in Hidalgo state – remain hospitalized, some of whom are in very critical condition, he added.
The blast occurred Friday night, hours after hundreds of Tlahuelilpan residents gathered near a pipeline to collect fuel after thieves had drilled a hole in the duct.
Army soldiers had arrived at the scene prior to the explosion but were unable to control the large crowd.
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.
This form of theft cost Mexico some $3.4 billion last year, according to official figures.
Since his Dec. 1, 2018, inauguration, leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has launched an all-out fight against this crime, deploying thousands of security-force members to increase the surveillance of 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.
That modification has caused severe supply problems in at least 10 states and Mexico City and led to the closing of service stations and panic purchases.