Bodies calcined in Tlahuelilpan to be identified by foreign experts

Lilia Escorcia Hernández, a member of the UNAM's Forensic Anthropology Research Institute explains why this is it difficult to identify the bodies

Bodies calcined in Tlahuelilpan to be identified by foreign experts
127 people died after a fuel tap exploded in Tlahuelilpan - Photo: Valente Rosas/EL UNIVERSAL
English 18/02/2019 16:39 Mexico City Leonardo Huerta Mendoza Actualizada 16:46
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After the explosion of a clandestine fuel tap in Tlahuelilpan, in the state of Hidalgo, at least 127 have died; 68 at the place where the explosion happened and 59 died at hospitals.

The Hidalgo government said that it has identified 16 bodies but that it hasn't been able to identify another 50 because they are either calcined or carbonized. For now, they are deciding which bodies will be identified by the local experts, which ones will be sent to other states, and which ones will be sent to other countries.

According to Lilia Escorcia Hernández, a member of the UNAM's Forensic Anthropology Research Institute, the people who were at the trench when the fuel tap exploded experiences a higher thermal alteration because they stayed there while the fuel burned for hours; in contrast, the bodies of those who were able to run away for the explosion weren't as damaged by the fire.

The physical forensic anthropologist explains that “In some pictures, it can be seen that the fire didn't affect the skeleton of those who died at the location; their skeletal remains were protected by the soft tissue. In such cases, the forensic studies are carried out in the bone material.”

A complicated case

Analyzing the remains that have been thermally altered or damaged by fire is a complicated task. Nevertheless, the problem turns even more complicated because the remains that are fragmented into small pieces have to be found, classified and arranged; if there are several skeletons at the same location, the work increases.

Besides a large number of calcined human remains, there is a lot of social pressure and there aren't many physical forensic anthropologists in Mexico. In Hidalgo there are only two, one of them joined the Attorney General's Office last December.

After the increase in violence in Hidalgo, the local authorities had to hire another physical forensic anthropologist in December 2018.

The researcher says that her colleagues now have handled several cases every day as the number of calcined bodied has increased exponentially in the last years.

In regards to the Tlahuelilpan tragedy, the expert thinks there's a chance that there still is some organic matter in the skeletal remains, which could be used to obtain the DNA.

“I'm convinced that this is possible. The human remains in which they can't find organic matter (it disappears at temperatures higher than 800 Celsius degrees) to obtain their DNA are the ones that are taken to a crematorium; there, the organic matter is completely lost. But in (the bodies in) Tlahuelilpan there could be skeletal remains with organic matter. Of course, everything depends on the temperatures that burnt them but we have to consider that they were in an open space.”

According to the physical forensic anthropologist, the Mexican authorities would have to explain why are some of the remains going to be sent to other countries when there are laboratories here.


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