Oil pipeline explodes, killing 28

SAN MARTIN TEXMELUCAN, Mexico — A massive oil pipeline explosion Sunday in a central Mexican city incinerated people, cars, houses and trees as gushing crude turned streets into flaming rivers.

At least 28 people were killed, 13 of them children, in a disaster authorities blamed on oil thieves.

The blast in San Martin Texmelucan, initially estimated to have affected 5,000 residents in a three-mile radius, scorched homes and cars and left metal and pavement twisted and in some cases burned to ash.

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

Officials identified all but four of the dead by Sunday night. Although they released some names, they didn't say if they were all residents of the area or possible suspects.

Zoyla Perez Cortes, 27, said she awoke about 5:30 a.m. to a strange, overpowering smell, like gasoline. Minutes later, her street looked like it was flowing in tar and then erupted in flames. Her husband knocked down a wall, allowing them to escape out the back of their two-story, cement-brick home with their three children.

Her brother-in-law is being treated for burns in a hospital, but she didn't know the fate of his wife and two children.

"It was like we were living in an inferno," she said, her eyes red from crying. "Everything was covered in smoke."

Aside from the deaths, at least 52 people were hurt and 84 remained in a shelter late Sunday after fleeing San Martin, which is about 55 miles east of Mexico City. More than 115 homes were scorched, 32 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.

The oil flowed more than half a mile down a city street before diverting into a river. At some point a spark of unknown origin caused both to erupt in flames.