A road-grader accidentally tore open a fuel pipeline and sent an inferno raging over houses and a school, setting off a stampede of terrified children and killing about 100 people and injuring 20, a Red Cross official said.
The road construction equipment was working in Ijegun village on the distant outskirts of Nigeria's main city, Lagos, when it pierced the pipe and fuel began spewing into the surrounding neighborhood on Thursday, Red Cross disaster coordinator Suleman Maikubi said. Moments later, an explosion billowed oily plumes of flame and soot high into the air, witnesses said.
Pupils in crowded secondary school rushed from their classrooms in panic as blazing fuel flowed toward the compound.
Children were squeezed against the schoolyard walls during the stampede out the exit gate and some of the youngsters were killed, villagers said. "Many children have died. In fact you cannot even count them.
Some of them were choked by the smoke, others crushed by the concrete fence of the school while some were suffocated in an attempt to rush out," said one witness, Aderemi Salau. "At least, I helped to carry 10 dead bodies," the man added, bursting into tears.
Dozens of child-size sandals lay scattered in the sandy courtyard.
Maikubi said it was still unclear how many children were among the roughly 100 people killed. Around 20 people were injured and taken to a hospital, he said.
Hundreds of onlookers gaped at the fire, which could be seen from miles away, as firefighters sent water jetting into the conflagration.
Pipeline fires are common in Nigeria. More than 400 people died in two similar pipeline explosions in Lagos in 2006 and at least 40 died in December.
Authorities frequently blame the disasters on criminal gangs that tap into pipelines to siphon fuel for sale. After the gangs move on, people crowd in to scavenge for fuel and a spark can set leaked fuel ablaze.