Sixty six people have now been confirmed dead and another seventy six are known to have been injured, following an explosion on an oil pipeline in the town of Tlahuelilpan, in Hidalgo State, Mexico on Friday 18 January 2018. The incident was reportedly caused after thieves drilled into the pipeline in a poor neighbourhood of the city with the intention of stealing oil. This resulted in a rupture on the pipeline, which causes oil to jet into the air. Many people then rushed to the scene hoping to fill containers with some of the oil. An attempt to hold back the crowds was made by military personnel, but it soon became clear that they were badly outnumbered, and they were forced to withdraw. Some time after this the oil was somehow ignited and the area engulfed in a fireball.
The aftermath of a pipeline explosion in Tlahuelilpan, Hidalgo, on Friday 18 January 2019. New York Times.
Thefts of oil from pipelines in Mexico have risen almost ninefold in the last decade, driven by growing economic inequality and rising fuel prices. Incoming president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who was elected in December, has promised to clamp down on these thefts, deploying military personnel to guard pipelines and shutting down some of the more vulnerable routes completely. However this policy has drawn widespread criticism as it has led to fuel shortages, which appear to have further fed demand for black-market fuel.
Relatives of missing people watching as forensic search teams sift through the aftermath of a pipeline explosion in Tlahuelilpan, Hidalgo, on Friday 18 January 2019. Reuters.
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