On Friday, hundreds of people had gathered in an almost festive atmosphere in a field where a pipeline had been perforated by fuel thieves and gasoline spewed 20 feet into the air. State oil company Petroleos Mexicanos said the pipeline, which supplies much of central Mexico with fuel, had just reopened after being shut since Dec. 23 and that it had been breached 10 times over three months. As they neared the spurting fuel, Gerardo Perez was overcome with foreboding. Perez recalls telling his son: "Let's go ... this thing is going to explode." And it did, with a fireball that engulfed locals scooping up the spilling gasoline and underscored the dangers of an epidemic of fuel theft from pipelines that Mexico's new president has vowed to fight, reports the AP. By Saturday evening the death toll from Friday's blaze had risen to 73, with another 74 people injured and dozens more missing. Stories of the grisly aftermath and some of the lost:
- Journalist Veronica Jimenez tells Reuters she got there prior to the blast and saw a scene "like a party." Then, horror. "Some people’s skin came off ... it was very ugly, horrible, people screamed and cried. They shouted the names of their husbands, brothers, their family members."
- On Saturday, Perez, who escaped along with his son, returned to the scorched field in the town of Tlahuelilpan in Hidalgo state to look for missing friends. It was a fruitless task. Only a handful of the remains still had skin. Dozens were burned to the bone or to ash. Several of the deceased lay on their backs, their arms stretched out in agony. Some seemed to have covered their chests in a last attempt to protect themselves. Lost shoes were scattered around a space the size of a soccer field. Closer to the explosion, forensic workers marked mounds of ash with numbers.
- Arely Calva Martinez said the recent shortages at gas stations raised the temptation to salvage fuel from the gusher. Her brother Marco Alfredo, a teacher, was desperate for gas to drive 90 minutes back and forth to work when word spread via Facebook that fuel spewing into the field. Marco Alfredo and another brother, Yonathan, were in the field when the fire erupted. They haven't been seen since. "I think if there had been gas in the gas stations, many of these people wouldn't have been here," Calva Martinez said while holding a picture of her brothers.
- Tears streamed down Erica Bautista's cheeks as she held up her cellphone with pictures of her brother, Valentin Hernandez Cornejo, 24, a taxi driver, and his wife, Yesica, both of whom are also missing. Valentin faced "enormous lines" for a limited ration of gas, she said. Then he received a phone call alerting him to the fuel spill. "We want to at least find a cadaver," she said while weeping.
- Mexican Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio said there are 50 soldiers stationed every 12 miles along the pipelines, and that they patrol 24 hours a day. But the soldiers have been ordered not to engage with fuel thieves out of fear that an escalation could result in more shootings of unarmed civilians or more soldiers being beaten by a mob.
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