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In Mexico, Dozens Killed In Gasoline Pipeline Explosion


At least 66 people have died in Mexico after a gasoline pipeline exploded yesterday, hurling flames into the air and burning more than 100 people. The incident took place in the central state of Hidalgo. Authorities say the pipeline had been tapped illegally by thieves. NPR's Carrie Kahn has more from Mexico City, and we should say some of the details are graphic.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Forensic experts dressed in white body suits took on the gruesome task today of removing the dozens of charred remains from the scorched field where the gasoline pipeline exploded. Many of the blackened bodies were found stretched out on the green grass. Others were found in embraces as if huddled together as they burned. Scorched shoes, plastic jugs and jerry cans used to collect the gushing gas littered the area.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Onlookers and relatives of the victims, held back from the scene by police, were frantic to identify their loved ones. In video circulating on social media, many complained of bad treatment by officials. In an early morning press conference, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador expressed his condolences to the families.



KAHN: We are shocked by what happened by the tragedy that occurred in Hidalgo, said Lopez Obrador, flanked by the secretary of defense, Hidalgo state's governor and other top officials. Lopez Obrador has been in the midst of a three-week-long crackdown on rampant fuel theft. Last year, thieves siphoned off more than $3 billion from state-owned gas pipelines. Last month, the president shut six key pipelines, opting instead to truck gasoline around the country rather than through the vulnerable conduits. That has led to gasoline shortages in multiple states, hours long lines and price hikes.

Despite the crackdown, illegal tapping of the pipelines continue. According to authorities, around 5 p.m. Friday evening, someone illegally perforated the pipeline in Hidalgo. The military and Pemex, the state oil company, sent armed personnel to the scene. By then, hundreds of residents had gathered already filling buckets and plastic jugs as gas gushed high into the air. For nearly two hours, police and soldiers remained on the scene but did not disperse the crowd. Lopez Obrador defended the soldiers' actions and vowed not to back down in his fight against fuel theft.


LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We will continue our same policies," he said, adding - "this explosion is a painful, lamentable lesson to the people that it's time to stop the practice of stealing fuel." Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.