Dozen Killed In Colombia Pipeline Blast; Rains Blamed

BOGOTA (Dow Jones Newswires), Dec. 23, 2011

A gasoline-pipeline explosion Friday morning in Colombia killed about a dozen people and injured scores more, and officials who initially blamed the blast on fuel thieves later said torrential rains were the culprit.

Mines and Energy Minister Mauricio Cardenas, who earlier said the blast in the western state of Risaralda was probably caused by fuel thieves who carved an "illegal valve" into the pipeline to siphon off gasoline, said Friday afternoon that further investigations suggest thieves weren't the cause.

Cardenas told local media the only culprit of the blast was intense winter rain over the past several weeks. The escape of gases from the pipeline that led to the explosion, he said, "was linked to the large amount of water that's accumulated in this particular area, which put strong pressure on the pipes, leading to the rupture."

The predawn explosion unleashed a huge fireball that blew the roofs off homes near the town of Dosquebradas. Varying official reports put the death toll at somewhere between 11 and 14 people, with another 70 to 80 people injured, including 23 children.

The office of President Juan Manuel Santos said 11 were killed, but added that eight or nine more are in "grave condition."

The explosion at the pipeline, which is owned and operated by Colombia's state-controlled energy company Ecopetrol SA (EC, ECOPETROL.BO, ECP.T), happened just before 4 a.m. local time.

In a Twitter message, Santos said "all the costs associated with caring for the injured will be paid for by Ecopetrol." He said welfare checks would be provided to families affected by the blast.

Copyright (c) 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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