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Nigeria gas pipeline blast kills 200

Gas gushing from a ruptured pipeline caught fire as villagers scavenged for free fuel, sparking the inferno.

india Updated: May 12, 2006 22:55 IST

Gas gushing from a ruptured Nigeria pipeline caught fire on Friday as villagers scavenged for the free fuel, sparking an inferno that killed up to 200 people and left charred bodies scattered around the site.

Grim-faced rescue workers swung corpses into a mass grave as dozens of other scorched bodies awaited collection next to the pipeline.

It appeared some victims whose bodies lay further away had tried to flee the unfolding disaster only to be overtaken by flames spreading across the fuel slick.

Police and rescue workers said the villagers had been collecting the gushing fuel outside the waterside village of Ilado, about 45 kilometres (28 miles) east of the main Nigerian city of Lagos when the fuel ignited, killing dozens.

"Between 150 and 200 people died," Lagos Police Commissioner Emmanuel Adebayo told reporters. The Red Cross had said it was treating survivors, but no live victims were seen. It wasn't known what started the fuel ablaze.

The Red Cross said it had workers helping survivors. Red Cross spokeswoman Okon Umoh said many of the bodies had fallen into the water.

The impoverished people of Africa's oil giant often tap into pipelines, seeking fuel for cooking or resale on the black market. The highly volatile petroleum can ignite, incinerating those collecting it.

In September 2004, an oil pipeline exploded near Lagos as thieves tried to siphon oil, and up to 50 people perished. A 1998 pipeline blast killed over 1,000 in southern Nigeria.

Most of Nigeria's oil is pumped in the southern Niger Delta region, far from Lagos. Pipes carry the crude to refineries across the vast nation.

Nigeria, which normally pumps 2.5 million barrels of crude per day, is Africa's largest producer and the fifth-largest source of imports to the United States.

Despite the oil, most Nigerians are poor, a volatile duality. Militants have kidnapped foreign oil workers to press their demands for local control of oil revenues by inhabitants of the oil-producing south who feel cheated out of the wealth produced in their backyards.

Other groups have used such kidnappings as bargaining chips in recent years to prod oil companies to increase jobs or improve benefits. Hostages are usually released unharmed.

Three foreign oil workers who had been abducted in the oil hub of Port Harcourt were released on Friday, a day after they were snatched from a bus as they headed to work, regional police commander Samuel Adetuyi said.

It was the second attack this week on foreigners in Port Harcourt, where many oil-services companies keep their main Nigerian operations.

An unidentified gunman riding a motorcycle Wednesday shot and killed an American riding in a car to work at the offices of the US drilling equipment maker Baker Hughes Inc.

The pipeline explosion tempered a drop in crude oil futures as the International Energy Agency sharply cut its forecasts for world oil demand.

Light, sweet crude for June delivery fell 47 cents to $72.85 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange by afternoon in Europe. June Brent crude on the ICE Futures exchange lost 47 cents to $72.96 a barrel.

Earlier in the day, the Nymex contract fell as low as $72.40.