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500 feared killed in Lagos explosion

Up to 500 people have beeen burned alive as fuel from a vandalised pipeline explodes in Nigeria's largest city.

india Updated: Dec 26, 2006 22:22 IST

Up to 500 people were burned alive on Tuesday when fuel from a vandalised pipeline exploded in Nigeria's largest city, Lagos, emergency workers said.

Hundreds of residents of the Abule Egba district went to scoop fuel using plastic containers after thieves punctured the underground pipeline overnight to siphon fuel into a road tanker, locals said.

Abiodun Orebiyi, secretary-general of the Nigerian Red Cross, said there was no official death toll but estimated that between 200 and 500 people could have been killed.

"We know it is over 200 (dead). We are talking hundreds. We don't know if it is 300, 400 or 500," he said, adding that 60 people had been evacuated to hospital with serious burns.

A witness saw the remains of hundreds of bodies, most burned beyond recognition, lying at the scene of the explosion as emergency workers tried to put out the fire.

Some corpses lay rigid on the ground - arms and legs in the air as if still trying to escape - their clothes and skin burned off by the blast.

"A lot of people have been roasted. They are littered on the ground," a rescue worker said.

A group of 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.

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

Pipeline vandalism and fuel theft are common in Nigeria, the world's eighth largest oil exporter where most people live in poverty.

Industry experts estimate that about five per cent of the country's crude oil production is stolen for export by big syndicates with contacts in the military and government.

But small-scale theft of gasoline and diesel, for private use or sale by the road-side, is much more deadly because of the highly flammable nature of the fuel.

(additional reporting by Tom Ashby and Victoria Ashby)

First Published: Dec 26, 2006 21:39 IST