Mexico’s pipeline survivors: “We saved ourselves because we ran”

In the Hidalgo municipality of Tlahuelilpan, the dismay and horror experienced during the early morning gave way little by little to mourning and identifying the people who were burned, amid the flames, yesterday, while they collected gasoline from a clandestine outlet in a pipeline that crosses the town of San Primitivo. A spark transformed the gasoline into a giant geyser of liquid in a fire that rose to tens of meters of height, immediately burned to more than 66 people and burned with different gravity levels to 76 more. The fiery fountain gushed for about four hours and burned practically everything in the milpa in a 50-meter circle around it. Juan Luis Lomelí Plascencia, the undersecretary of Hidalgo government, encouraged neighbours who were wandering in the area in search of close to the Public Ministry to report the disappearance of their loved ones to determine the size of the tragedy.

“If there are 100 folders and we have registered 70 deceased people, it means we have 30 left; there may be more in the pit, “he told them. And it is that in the “pit” -the irrigation channel in which the pipeline was perforated-, the fire did not stop burning during the whole tragedy and turned the channel into a hell. At night, civil defence and Pemex personnel filled it with dirt and a chemical agent to solve the emergency. That is why, since last night, entire families have been in the area of ​​the milpa, in search of some indication of the fate of their relatives. A man is convinced that his nephew, Erick Flores Monroy, is in the area affected because his name does not appear on the lists of the authorities and his car is still parked higher.

Lomelí also asked them to lodge complaints against the alleged perpetrators of the pipeline drilling. “They know them, many live here with you,” said the official, with what a gentleman in a hat nodded. Moments later, he exhorted them: “And help us, do not smoke here, there is still a lot of gas in the air”. In the agency of the Public Ministry of Mixquiahuala, a neighbouring municipality, dozens of people waited under a white tent, to deliver the documents of their disappeared relatives and deliver DNA samples for the authorities to compare them with the DNA of the bodies that do not They could be identified by their degree of calcination.

Sadness floated in the air, faces were marked by weariness and glances were seen red by the tears shed. People tried to relieve the pain talking to each other. Desolate, sitting on a chair, a man mourns the death of his son, Martín Alfredo Trejo López, 34 years old. A young man accompanied him to the MP; He was with Martin last night. He was half a milpa and the man was only two meters from the point of the explosion. “It was very hot,” he recalls. “We saved ourselves because we ran, when the fire came down we returned to help those who were there. They all fell down, and they were left lying, “he says. In the morning, funeral companies took the bodies to Tula, from whose refinery the pipeline that was drilled and derived in the tragedy. The families of the mourners who were fully identified could begin the wakes.

For hours, a score of experts carefully combed the devastated area, covered the bodies in white and blue bags, and collected in the coal-coloured earth the few things that survived the fire: cell phones, scraps of clothing, the picture of a bicycle, a pack of cigarettes or pieces of half-melted drums. Beginning the afternoon, the authorities found four more bodies. While an injured person died in a hospital to increase the death toll to 75. Attached to the yellow ribbons that the authorities installed to delimit the damaged area, hundreds of neighbours and residents watched anxiously and silently the act of the experts. Others, supportive came with pots and offered tamales and coffee. On two occasions, mass actions were carried out. Dozens of people ran together to the same place because someone had found a finger among the leaves of the alfalfa.

Ignacio González Hernandez, an official of the State Government Secretariat, tells proces.com.mx that, in the zone, external groups -of Michoacán, of Tamaulipas and members of the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel (CJNG )- and groups of the region they fight to the death the control of the pipelines. “There have always been huachicoleo but increased a lot from the “gasolinazo”, and adds that the groups get to sell the fuel in 9 pesos per litre; half of its price at gas stations. Among the claims that ran from mouth to mouth highlighted the misunderstanding about the passivity of the military yesterday, as the uniformed observed that people gathered to take fuel and did nothing to cordon off the area. Last night, the governor of Hidalgo Omar Fayad justified this attitude of the military by saying that the soldiers had unleashed a conflict if they had prevented access to gasoline. Another annoyance arose when the soldiers withdrew the settlers towards the outskirts of the property so that the Pemex experts could access the pipeline. Some opposed refused to move and criticized the attitude of the military, as they pointed out that the military elements laughed.

“We know it’s a Pemex pipeline, but those who are here are our relatives, our neighbours, our colleagues and our friends,” a woman complained. Finally, an officer of the Federal Police gave in and allowed 10 representatives of the neighbours to enter the pipeline and accompany the Pemex workers. Three women with whom this reporter spoke acknowledged that they participated yesterday in the collection of gasoline. They found out by a message and went to the sprouting fountain. One said that he did it because the shortage suffered by the town in recent weeks did not let him sell clothes in other municipalities, his source of subsistence.

After a few hours in the cornfield filling up fuel tanks, they realized that no gasoline was coming out, but a liquid they identified as jet fuel, much more irritating and volatile than the fuel. They walked away before the geyser grew and caught on. “This mother was not gas!” A man released, his throat and eyes red. “It’s like soap, but it boils,” he said. The three women were convinced that it was “the president” who put the most pressure on the pipeline to burn them, in what they described as a “Plan with Maña.” And they were not the only conspiracy theories, the product of the misinformation that arose: some assured that the experts covered the grave to make shelving, or that a military “stung” the pipeline.

This text was originally published in Spanish on January 19 (2019), in the Digital Edition of the magazine Proceso by Mathieu Tourliere.

Reference: Nosotros nos salvamos porque corrimos.

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