Hugo Lopez-Gatell Ramirez, deputy secretary of health promotion and prevention, said that 46 died in hospitals where they were being treated for severe burns. Another 33 remain hospitalized in Mexico and in Texas, United States.
Some of the patients are prone to infections in the kidneys and cardiovascular and respiratory systems because they were exposed to extreme temperatures and suffered burns in their tracheas and bronchial tubes.
On the day of the tragedy, local people gathered around a leaking pipeline at about 5 p.m. with bottles and containers to collect the fuel and sell it amid shortages caused by the federal government’s strategy to combat fuel stealing.
The Mexican army arrived to cordon off the area but could not control some 800 people who were extracting the fuel. The agents asked the crowd to leave the area but they did not comply with the order, which caused the tragedy.
The fuel explosion created a 'fire barrier', causing a large number of people to become trapped in a ditch-like area.
Relatives of some of the victims said fuel shortages stemming from President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's plan attracted people to the leak at the Tula-Tuxpan pipeline, a few miles from a major refinery.
"A lot of innocent people came here, perhaps their car didn't have enough gasoline for tomorrow, and they said: 'I'm just going to go for a few liters'," said farmer Isidoro Velasco, 51, who said his nephew, Mario Hidalgo, was probably killed.
Critics say the government did too little to prevent people from gathering at the scene before the explosion, was too hasty in sending gasoline through the duct after weeks of it being closed due to the fuel theft crackdown and acted too slowly once the leak was detected.
Lopez Obrador launched a crackdown on fuel theft on Dec. 27 and ordered pipelines to be closed temporarily to stop illegal taps draining billions of dollars from the heavily-indebted state oil firm Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex).