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Gasoline leak causes panic in Tlajomulco

October 31, 2013


Over 7,500 people were evacuated from their homes in Tlajomulco on Wednesday morning because of a gasoline leak from an underground Pemex pipeline.

Authorities arrived at around 4.30 a.m. in an attempt to control the leak, alerted by a great shower of fuel that had burst almost 20 meters into the air in a cornfield beside the Chulavista and Lomas del Mirador neighborhoods. By 10 a.m. every inhabitant within a 500-meter radius of the leak from the Salamanca-Guadalajara pipeline had been evacuated, along with the pupils and staff from 15 local schools.

“Upon detecting the leak, supply to the pipeline was suspended immediately and the isolation valves were blocked,” Pemex wrote on Twitter.

The authorities managed to prevent the leaked gasoline from igniting and by 10:29 a.m. Governor Aristoteles Sandoval tweeted, “The risk has decreased significantly: the leak is controlled. The authorities are still in place and the citizens can be calm.”

Tlajomulco’s municipal government and the State Civil Protection Agency had opened four shelters to aid the refugees, who were eventually allowed to return to their homes at around 6 p.m.

The leak was caused by thieves who had been syphoning off fuel during the night. The authorities managed to recover at least 175,000 liters of gas that the thieves had stored in tanker, a nearby warehouse and a number of smaller pipelines.

“This duct, which is one of the most important, fuels the metropolitan area and passes through many sparsely populated areas, facilitating the criminals who cary out this kind of action,” Tlajomulco Mayor Ismael del Toro said in response to the robbery.

“I want to inform you that we already have a detainee, we have a person who is being investigated, he was arrested in a pipe nearby,” Sandoval added, upon arriving in Chulavista later on Wednesday.

The federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) is investigating the incident because the theft constituted a crime against Pemex, Mexico’s state-run oil and gas monopoly. The federal investigators would determine “whether organized crime was behind the incident,” Sandoval said.

Clandestine robberies cost Pemex around four billion pesos in the first six months of 2013, El Universal reported in August, while Reforma reported last year that Pemex typically loses even more fuel through accidental leaks than it does from theft. The number of preliminary investigations into gasoline theft in Jalisco has reportedly risen by 181 percent from 88 to 248 in the last year, yet only 15 people have been arrested in connection with these cases in 2013.

The situation in Tlajomulco had returned to one of normality by Thursday morning, with all evacuees back in their homes and all local schools open again, but Wednesday’s incident will have heightened existing fears over the safety of energy pipelines in the Guadalajara metropolitan area.

Just two weeks previously, an underground natural gas leak in the city’s Cruz del Sur neighborhood had led to flames emerging from a drain, causing widespread panic and the evacuation of 6,000 local residents. No one was hurt, but the leak prompted memories of a series of explosions which claimed over 200 lives in April 1992, after a faulty pipeline had hemorrhaged thousands of liters of gasoline into Guadalajara’s sewers.

To minimize risk in any future incidents, the Department of Energy advises anyone that smells gasoline to extinguish any cigarettes or other open flames and ensure that stoves and heaters are properly closed. Do not turn on lights or use cell phones or other electronic devices, as these could cause sparks that ignite the leaked fuel. Leave the area, moving upwind from the source of the smell, and do not return until the authorities have determined that it is safe to do so.

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