Red Cross: More than 250 killed in Nigerian fuel blast

Hundreds of people were burned alive on Tuesday when fuel spilling from a vandalised pipeline exploded in Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, emergency workers said.

Crowds of local residents went to scoop up the petrol in plastic containers after an armed gang punctured the underground pipeline overnight to siphon fuel into road tankers.

“The number of dead is confirmed at 269. We have retrieved all the bodies,” said Abiodun Orebiyi, secretary general of the Nigerian Red Cross. Another 160 people were taken to two hospitals in Lagos suffering from burns, another Red Cross official said.

Shortly after the blast, hundreds of bodies, most burned beyond recognition, were scattered on the ground next to a ramshackle car workshop and a saw mill in the densely populated Abule Egba district.

Some corpses lay rigid on the earth—arms and legs thrust awkwardly in the air—their clothes and skin burned off by the blast.
Others were reduced to ash.

It took firefighters equipped with leaking water hoses about six hours to extinguish the flames as hundreds of people came to watch.

In the absence of an ambulance service, one group of volunteers loaded charred corpses into an estate car operated by the Lagos road safety authority.

Some women sat crying on a bench.

“One friend knocked on our door and told my husband they were taking fuel. My husband ran out with two buckets and now he has gone. This is a curse from God,” said a woman who gave her name as Ole.

Youths with jerry cans were offering stolen fuel on a nearby roadside at double the official price.

Long queues have formed at fuel stations across Nigeria over the past few weeks because of shortages in supply from the national oil company.

“Because of the scarcity, people want to make a quick profit or just fill their tank,” Orebiyi said.

Despite huge exports of crude oil, Nigeria suffers regular shortages of petrol and diesel because it relies on imports of refined fuel from the West.

President Olusegun Obasanjo has promised not to increase local fuel prices in 2006, after a series of hikes triggered protests in 2005, but there is widespread speculation that prices will rise after the new year.

Industry experts estimate that about 5% of Nigerian crude oil is stolen for export by criminal syndicates with contacts in the military and government.

But smaller-scale theft of gasoline and diesel is also common, and much more deadly because of the highly flammable nature of these fuels.

A similar explosion at a vandalised pipeline in another part of Lagos in May killed about 200 people.—Reuters

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