Fuel pipeline explodes in Colombia, killing 11

BOGOTA, Colombia — A fuel pipeline exploded in Colombia on Friday, killing at least 11 people, injuring more than 70 others, and destroying homes.

The explosion occurred in the central province of Risaralda, located about 170 kilometers (100 miles) southwest of the capital of Bogota, said local emergency management official Carlos Mario Garcia.

At least 11 people were killed and 72 were injured in the explosion before dawn, said Garcia, who was at the site of the blast. He said 15 people were seriously hurt and that the rest suffered minor injuries.

A fire that broke out after the explosion had been brought under control, Garcia said.

The pipeline, which carries gasoline and diesel, is operated by national oil company Ecopetrol.

Officials suspect that thieves had been trying to remove fuel through one of the valves in the pipeline, Mines and Energy Minister Mauricio Cardenas said.

Cardenas later told reporters at the blast site that officials were investigating to pinpoint the cause.

Garcia said by telephone that people had been evacuated from nearby homes. He said at least 30 homes were damaged or destroyed.

Images on Colombian television showed some of the houses destroyed by the blast and other homes with charred walls. The waters of a nearby stream were flaming with some of the spilled fuel.

Police officer Juan Pablo Munoz, who works elsewhere in the country but was visiting family for Christmas, said he was jolted out of bed by the explosion.

“I smelled a strong odor of gasoline,” the 21-year-old said by phone. “I went out into the street. I walked at least 10 steps and I saw that everything around me was destroyed.”