- Associated Press - Sunday, December 19, 2010

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A pipeline exploded in central Mexico early Sunday as thieves were trying to steal oil, killing at least 22 people and sending rivers of flaming crude through city streets.

Authorities estimated that the explosion and resulting spill affected a 3-mile radius.

The principal explosion, followed by four additional minor blasts, injured at least 32 people and forced hundreds to flee the city of San Martin Texmelucan, 55 miles east of Mexico City. The explosions also destroyed 32 houses and damaged 83.

“We saw rivers of fire in the streets,” Valentin Meneses, interior secretary for the state of Puebla, where San Martin is located, told Milenio Television.

Mr. Meneses said the explosion, which happened before dawn Sunday, apparently was provoked by thieves trying to steal crude oil.

“They lost control because of the high pressure with which the fuel exits the pipeline,” he said, adding that the oil began to flow down the city’s streets and into a nearby river.

The state-owned oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, said in a statement that it had shut down the pipeline.

Civil protection authorities, firefighters and military officers were investigating and trying to ensure there are no more explosions. No one has been detained.

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