At least 1,200 families were evacuated from seven neighborhoods in Puebla this morning after a gas leak was detected on a pipeline operated by the state oil company Pemex.
The affected duct is located on Tlatepango Street in the neighborhood of Villa Frontera, about six kilometers north of the state capital’s historic center.
Residents of that neighborhood as well as Vicente Guerrero, San Pedro, Villas del Marquéz, Villas San Gregorio, Venustiano Carranza and Revolución Mexicana were forced to leave their homes early this morning amid fears that an explosion could occur.
Around 180 patients were also evacuated from a hospital in the area as were workers in the Central de Abasto market.
State education authorities suspended classes in 77 schools in the north of the city.
The leak is believed to be the result of an illegal tap on the pipeline, a common practice of fuel thieves known as huachicoleros. The leak was first detected at 4:30am.
State Civil Protection services said just before 9:00am that Pemex personnel had successfully sealed the leak but added that work is still continuing in the area and that “nobody can yet return to their homes.”
A gas cloud accumulated above the affected area in the north of the city and fears remain that an explosion could occur.
Pemex reported the gas leak via its Twitter account just after 7:00am.
“With the support of municipal firefighters, we are working to control a leak on a gas pipeline north of the city of Puebla, caused by a supposed illegal tap. For security, state Civil Protection has evacuated neighboring areas,” the company said.
In another tweet, Pemex said “as soon as the leak was detected, the operation of the pipeline was completely suspended.”
Theft of liquefied petroleum gas is a growing problem in Mexico.
An industry group estimates that the crime has cost Pemex and private gas suppliers as much as 8 billion pesos (US $415.9 million) in lost revenue this year.