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At least 73 people were killed when a fuel pipeline exploded outside Mexico City, unleashing a massive fireball after residents tapped into the duct to steal buckets of gasoline, officials said on Saturday.
The explosion occurred late Friday in the midst of the Mexican government's campaign against oil theft, which costs the country about $3 billion per year.
Around 73 people were injured including at least 8 minors, one of them 12 years old and dozens more missing.
Forensic experts were separating and counting charred heaps of corpses while anguished relatives of those presumed dead gathered around the scene of carnage.
The blast underscored the deadly perils of the fuel-theft racket, which has cost the government billions of dollars a year and has been the target of a weekslong crackdown by the administration of Mexico’s new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Footage captured the blast and aftermath, with howling victims fleeing on fire or with their clothes and skin burned off while the inferno sends flames shooting into the sky behind them.
Some locals criticised security forces at the scene for not warning people more forcibly to get away from the leaking fuel.
Lopez Obrador, who took office in December, said he won’t be stymied in his offensive against fuel-theft gangs.
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His plan, which involves increasing surveillance along pipelines and more shipments by tanker trucks, led to gas shortages at filling stations across central Mexico.
When Obrador announced his crackdown on the fuel thieves, nicknamed "huachicoleros," polls showed the majority of the country was behind him.
He shut down many of the country's pipelines, attempting to starve the thieves of their supply, leading to a desperate gas shortage in much of the country. Even so, most Mexicans appeared to stand by his strategy.