Pipeline Erupts in Fiery Explosion in Mexico, Killing 20

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A ruptured gas pipeline in the Mexican state of Hidalgo exploded on Friday night, the authorities said, in a region that has been plagued by fuel thefts.

Omar Fayad, the governor of Hidalgo, said on Twitter that 20 had died and more than 60 were injured. Mr. Fayad said that he had been told the site was an illegal tap, where people were siphoning gasoline.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on Twitter that he had been informed of the explosion in Tlahuelilpan, a town about 80 miles north of Mexico City, and “called on the whole government to provide assistance to the people at the site.”

Video circulating on social media showed a huge fire spread across a field, with people silhouetted against the flames and dark smoke behind them, and pillar of fire rising into the night, the lights of emergency vehicles reflected in smoke.

Mexico is in the midst of a gas crisis, with shortages in and around the capital, long lines at stations around the country and criminal gangs known as huachicoleros siphoning gasoline from pipelines to resell it. Mr. López Obrador has made it a priority to stop the gangs, saying that the market for cheap stolen fuel has cost the government some 60 billion pesos, or $3.14 billion last year.

The illegal taps can be dangerous. Twenty-seven people were killed when a pipeline exploded in central Puebla State in 2010, and dozens of people were injured and homes were destroyed.

Mr. López Obrador has tried to crack down on thieves, shutting off pipelines thought vulnerable, diverting gasoline to tanker trucks, and ordering 4,000 military and police personnel to guard stretches of pipeline. The new transportation methods have caused delays in getting gasoline to service stations, according to Pemex, the state-run energy company.

Last week, the pipeline that runs from the coastal city of Tuxpan to Mexico City was sabotaged in retaliation for government’s new measures, the president said.

Mr. López Obrador had blamed the thefts, in part, on the “incompetence or complacency” of local authorities, and has maintained that his tactics have reduced the amount of fuel stolen.

“I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: Let’s see who gets tired first, because we will stop the fuel theft,” he said.

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