A big fire has erupted at a natural gas pipeline distribution centre near the northern Mexican city of Reynosa, bordering US state of Texas, killing at least 26 maintenance workers and forcing evacuations of people in nearby ranches and homes.
Petroleos Mexicanos, Mexico’s state-owned oil company, said at a news conference on Tuesday night that the fire was extinguished in 90 minutes and the pipeline was shut off.
The pipeline carries natural gas from wells in the Burgos basin.
Juan Jose Suarez, the company’s director-general, said four of those killed were Pemex employees and the rest were employed by contractors.
Suarez told reporters in Reynosa that 46 other workers were injured, including two taken to hospital in serious condition.
He said they had not found any evidence showing it was an attack.
Company executives have said there was a gas leak, followed by an explosion, but the precise cause had not been determined.
“Why there was such leak is something that must be investigated,” said Carlos Morales Gil, Pemex’s director of exploration and production.
Civil protection officials evacuated ranches and homes within five kilometers of the gas facility, which is about 19km southwest of Reynosa.
Authorities did not say how many people were evacuated, but the area is sparsely populated, Tamaulipas state’s civil protection director Pedro Benavides told a Televisa station.
The highway that connects Reynosa to the industrial city of Monterrey was closed to traffic, authorities said.
Egidio Torre Cantu, governor of the state of Tamaulipas – where Reynosa is located – sent condolences to the victims’ relatives and pledged to make sure that those injured receive help for their recovery.
Pipelines carrying gasoline and diesel in Mexico are frequently tapped by thieves looking to steal fuel.
Several oil spills and explosions have been blamed on illegal taps, but thieves seldom attack gas pipelines.
In December 2010, authorities blamed oil thieves for an oil pipeline explosion in a central Mexico city near the capital that killed 28 people, including 13 children.
The blast burned people and scorched homes, affecting 5,000 residents in an area 10 kilometres wide in San Martin Texmelucan.