Tlahuelilpan, Hidalgo — A massive fireball on Friday erupted at an illegal pipeline tap in Mexico, killing at least 66 people. Another 85 are missing.
Here is how events unfolded throughout Saturday.
Condolences and an offer of help: The government of Chile said it mourns the tragedy and stands in “firm solidarity with the government and people of Mexico.”
It also offered to help Mexican authorities in any way needed.
Argentina’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also sent condolences for the victims and said it hoped for the speedy recovery of the wounded.
Carnage: Civilians ignored soldiers’ warnings to stay clear of a geyser of gasoline that later exploded, said local resident Gerardo Perez Gutierrez.
Only a handful of the remains on the site still had skin, he said. Dozens of corpses were burned to the bone.
Military response: Mexican Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio says 25 military personnel arrived on the scene Friday before the explosion.
Sent to warn locals to steer clear, they were outnumbered by a public eager to fill their gas tanks. Personnel reported they witnessed at least 600 civilians congregating around a gusher of fuel shooting 6 meters/20 feet into the air.
Cresencio says there are 50 soldiers stationed every 20 kilometers (12 miles) along the duct. They patrol 24 hours a day.
But the soldiers have been ordered not to engage with fuel thieves out of fear of an escalation.
More thefts: Pemex Chief Executive Octavio Romero says there have been at least 10 perforations of pipelines over the past 90 days near the explosion.
One of those perforations resulted in a fire Dec. 18. It took 12 hours to extinguish, he said.
Vows probe: President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the attorney general’s office will investigate the pipeline rupture.
An investigation to determine whether the explosion was intentional.
Lopez Obrador called on townspeople to give testimony not only about Friday’s tragedy, but also about the entire black market chain.
Rising death toll: Hidalgo Gov. Omar Fayad said the death toll — initially in the 20s — rose to 66, with over 85 more still missing.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador three weeks ago launched an offensive against fuel theft gangs.
The tragedy is now likely to further intensify efforts to crack down on the illegal taps.