MEXICO CITY – A series of explosions, apparently caused by an illegal tap on a natural gas line, rocked the central Mexico city of Puebla before dawn Sunday, killing at least one person, injuring 11 and damaging dozens of homes, authorities said.
Puebla state Gov. Miguel Barbosa said an emergency call warning of a gas smell and cloud in the area gave officials about 80 minutes to evacuate some 2,000 people living as far as a kilometer (about s half mile) from the leak before the first of three explosions, which came shortly before 3 a.m.
“If there had not been an evacuation and there had not been coordination, there would have been a tragedy of great proportions," the governor said.
Officials said at least 54 homes were destroyed or damaged in the San Pablo Xochimehuacan district of Puebla, a city of 1.7 million people. At least two of the injured were in critical condition with severe burns.
“When I heard the chaos, the screaming of the people, that’s when we realized that the smoke from the gas was coming ... and we didn’t have time to take out documents or animals or anything,” one resident told The Associated Press shortly after being told his home was completely destroyed.
Fires burned in the rubble into the evening, when a heavy rain finally doused the flames. Shortly before 7 p.m., authorities announced that workers from Mexico's state oil company had succeeded in closing off the leaking gas.
Officials briefly evacuated 37 patients from a nearby hospital, but it was back in service hours later after suffering only minor damage, such as broken windows.
The governor said rescue teams with dogs were searching for more possible victims, though there were no reports of missing people.
Javier González of the government's Petroleos Mexicanos company said the tap apparently was installed on a property where officials found a tanker truck and 25 gas cylinders. Across the street is a gas distribution company.
Officials said 1,400 soldiers, National Guard troops, police, firefighters and rescue personnel were working in the area following the explosions. An additional 870 soldiers were on their way from the Valley of Mexico with tools, machinery and excavators and four search dogs, officials said.
The governor vowed to “get to the bottom” of who was responsible for the explosion.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador offered condolences to victims of the blast. Early in his administration, he crusaded against thieves who tap into gas and gasoline lines — even shutting down major fuel ducts to get rid of thieves.
But official reports indicate that as recently as March, Mexico was losing an average of 4,000 barrels a day of gasoline and diesel to to such taps, which are sometimes guarded by local communities who see them as a resource.
An illegal tap of a gasoline line caused an explosion that killed at least 134 people in the town of Tlahuelilpan, north of Mexico City, in 2019. Townspeople had gathered in a field to fill containers with gasoline leaking from the line.