Vol. 5 Num 694 Sat. May 13, 2006  
Front Page

200 killed in Lagos oil pipeline blast

Up to 200 people burned to death in a fireball Friday when a vandalised fuel pipeline blew up at a beach village near Nigeria's economic capital Lagos, police said.

Scorched beyond recognition corpses floated on the water or lay exposed on the sand as rescue workers and police picked through the debris.

"The estimated number of people who died is between 150 and 200. The people who died in the inferno are suspected to be pipeline vandals," Lagos Police Chief Emmanuel Adebayo told reporters, although another official put the toll at more than 200.

Adebayo said the area has been protected. "There is no further fire and no more leakage on the pipeline," he adding, "It is suspected that a pipeline burst led to the fire."

The Nigerian Red Cross had earlier reported more than 100 deaths from the blast early yesterday at Ilado beach village, near Apapa seaport where numerous oil installations are located.

The explosion is the latest in a string of pipeline-related disasters that have befallen Nigeria in the past eight years.

Residents in Lagos said they saw a huge column of thick black smoke rising into the air from the vicinity.

"Over 100 people were burnt to death and beyond recognition following the explosion. Our men are on the ground at the scene of the disaster," Nigerian Red Cross Secretary General Abiodun Orebiyi had told AFP.

"We have been unable to recover any injured person. All of them were burnt beyond recognition," he added.

He said Red Cross workers had found evidence that people had been trying to siphon fuel from the pipeline. "We found at the scene of the explosion about 500 containers which we suspect were used to steal fuel from the pipeline."

A deputy superintendent of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, Silas Mamalgwe, said "more than 200 people" died in the blast.

"Our team of 25 people arrived at the scene at 6:30am GMT. We have so far not found any survivors."

Scores of corpses floated on the water, a few under a boat also destroyed in the inferno, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

In some cases only bones remained. The positions of a few of the charred bodies indicated frantic attempts to flee the scene before they were engulfed by the flames.

A police post is situated nearby, indicating the fuel thieves may have been operating openly without police intervention.

There was nobody at the police post when an AFP reporter checked.

Close to 2,000 people have died in more than a dozen pipeline explosions across the country between 1998 and 2003, according to figures established by AFP.

In the worst single recorded incident in October 1998, 1,082 people thought to have been siphoning off fuel died in Jesse, in the oil-rich southern Delta State, after a pipeline erupted.

A few weeks ago, a community on the northern outskirts of Lagos narrowly averted disaster after petrol gushed freely out of a vandalised pipeline for four days before it was repaired.