Pipeline Thieves Cause Leak, Evacuation in Mexico

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Hundreds of people in the central Mexican city of Puebla are returning home after billowing clouds of flammable gas apparently caused by an illegal pipeline tap forced an early morning evacuation of several neighborhoods.

The incident reflects the growing problem of pipeline theft in Mexico, where thieves drilled 10,363 illegal taps into state-owned pipelines last year.

Authorities closed dozens of schools early Wednesday, and urged residents to turn off lights, heaters and stoves and leave .

Crews from Mexico's state-run gas company Pemex were able to control the leak and by late morning people were allowed to return. The leak also shut down activities at the city's main wholesale market during the morning crush of business.

Pemex said via Twitter that the leak was in an underground gas line apparently damaged by an illegal tap. It immediately closed the pipeline.

Fuel thefts were once largely confined to two or three states in Mexico, but have since spread across the country, including the suburbs of Mexico City.  The thefts are carried out by drug cartels and other heavily armed criminal gangs.

Thieves use hand drills to make holes in pipelines and quickly screw valves and hoses into place. They then fill everything from 275-gallon (1,064 liter) portable tanks to entire tanker trucks.

The illegal taps are usually discovered either because they leak, cause pipeline pressure to drop or catch fire.


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