Jan. 21 (UPI) -- The death toll from a gasoline pipeline explosion in Central Mexico last week rose to 85 people, with 58 others hospitalized, Mexican health officials said.
"We had reported 79 but in recent hours there are another six, bringing the total to 85," dead after the explosion of the pipeline in Tlahuelilpan, Hidalgo, said Jorge Alcocer, the country's health secretary, as reported Sunday by the Hidalgo-based Criterio newspaper.
The blast took place Friday as people attempted to illegally steal fuel at the Tuxpan-Tula pipeline.
Of the 58 hospitalized, 23 are in the state of Hidalgo with the rest in Mexico City and another three transferred to the United States. Health officials collected 54 DNA samples to help identify the bodies, which will take "a long time," Hidalgo Gov. Omar Fayad said.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said a plan will be implemented Tuesday to help some families living around pipelines so that they will not have to steal fuel to make a living, a Sunday report from Televisa news said.
"We are contemplating supporting over a million families, give options, alternatives and also maintain [pipeline] surveillance, as well as to the expand the capacity to transport fuel," Lopez Obrador said during a news conference.
The explosion in Tlahuelilpan, a town about 80 miles north of Mexico City, occurred amid a government effort to control rampant fuel theft. The most recent efforts started late in December, which included closing the pipelines. Thousands of army and police have been deployed to help control fuel theft.
Gasoline theft was slashed to a loss of 19,000 barrels per day on Dec, 25, down from 43,000 barrels per day on Dec. 21 as a result of the initial efforts to close valves, Mexican officials reported in late December.
The closing of the pipelines led to massive fuel shortages that affected several regions, as the country state oil company Pemex attempted to rely more on truck deliveries.
According to a study presented by Pemex to Congress in October, there several large criminal and drug trafficking organizations, as well as entire communities, fuel station owners, and current and former employees of the state oil company involved in such acts. Fuel is commonly stolen through punctures in the pipelines, and explosions have occurred in the past but not as deadly.
Mexican oil officials normally close the pipelines after they detect loss of pressure. Mexican officials have said that security protocols were followed Friday.