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Mexican city devastated by pipeline blast; 27 die

SAN MARTIN TEXMELUCAN, Mexico — A massive oil pipeline explosion lay waste to parts of a central Mexican city Sunday, incinerating people, cars, houses and trees as gushing crude 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, estimated to have affected 5,000 residents in a 3-mile radius, scorched homes and cars and left metal and pavement twisted from the intense heat.

Relatives sobbed as firefighters pulled charred bodies from the incinerated homes, some of the remains barely more than piles of ashes and bones.

Officials had recovered 26 bodies by late Sunday and had identified 18.

Aside from the deaths, at least 52 people were hurt and at least 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 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 a half mile, Gurza said.

At some point a spark caused the crude to erupt into flames, though officials didn't know the origin of the spark.

Mexican city devastated by pipeline blast; 27 die 12/19/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:42pm]

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