Gerardo Perez returned Saturday to the scorched field in central Mexico where he’d seen an illegal pipeline tap burst into flames to see if he could recognize missing friends.
Only a handful of the remains still had skin.
Dozens were burned to the bone or to ash when the gusher of gasoline exploded, killing at least 73 people.
Perez said he and his son bypassed soldiers and ignored warnings to stay clear of the geyser Friday evening in the town of Tlahuelilpan in Hidalgo state, about 62 miles north of Mexico City.
“We’re stubborn,” he said. But as Perez neared the spurting fuel, he was overcome with foreboding. He recalls telling his son: “Let’s go ... this thing is going to explode.”
And it did, with the fireball engulfing locals collecting the spilling gasoline in buckets, jugs and garbage cans.
Video footage showed flames shooting high into the night sky, and screaming people running from the explosion, some themselves burning and waving their arms. Perez and his son made it out.
By Saturday evening the death toll had risen to 73, according to Hidalgo Gov. Omar Fayad.
Officials said at least another 74 were injured and dozens more were missing.
Fifty-four bodies have yet to be identified.
A forensic experts take picture burned body in the area an oil pipeline explosion in Tlahuelilpan, Hidalgo state, Mexico, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019.
Forensic experts were separating and counting charred heaps of corpses while anguished relatives of those presumed dead gathered around the scene of carnage.
Just a few feet from where the pipeline passed through an alfalfa field, the dead seem to have fallen in heaps, perhaps as they stumbled over each other or tried to help one another as the geyser of gasoline turned to flames.
Several of the deceased lay on their backs, their arms stretched out in agony.
Some seemed to have covered their chests in a last attempt to protect themselves from the blast.
A few corpses seemed to embrace each other in death.
Lost shoes were scattered around a space the size of a soccer field, as were half-melted plastic jugs the victims carried to gather spilling fuel.
Closer to the explosion, forensic workers marked mounds of ash with numbers.
On Friday, hundreds of people had gathered in an almost festive atmosphere in a field where a duct had been perforated by fuel thieves and gasoline spewed 20 feet into the air.
State oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, said the pipeline, which supplies much of central Mexico with fuel, had just reopened after being shut since Dec. 23 and that it had been breached 10 times over three months.