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Nigeria pipeline blast kills at least 100: Red Cross

IJEGUN, Nigeria (Reuters) - At least 100 people were killed and scores injured when fuel from a pipeline ruptured by a bulldozer caught fire and exploded on Thursday in a village near Nigeria’s biggest city of Lagos, the Red Cross said.

A woman runs past a fire from a ruptured pipeline burning in the Ijegun area of Lagos, Nigeria May 15,2008. REUTERS/George Esrir

The fireball engulfed homes and schools at Ijegun village in the Lagos district of Alimosho, and many of the dead, who included schoolchildren, were killed in the ensuing stampede as people fled in panic from the flames.

“About 100 people have so far been confirmed dead from the fire. We have so far rescued more than 20 people with injuries and taken them to hospital for treatment,” a Red Cross official at the scene told Reuters.

The disaster was the latest in a series of pipeline explosions or blazes caused by damage or theft which have killed more than 1,200 people since 2000 in Nigeria, the world’s eighth largest oil exporter and Africa’s top producer.

The pipeline rupture at Ijegun, a village about 50 km (30 miles) from the centre of the sprawling coastal city of Lagos, occurred during work to build a road. A bulldozer moving earth struck the pipeline buried beneath the surface.

“I was returning home when I suddenly saw sparks of fire from where the grader (earthmover) was working,” local resident John Egbowon said.

The fuel leaking from the broken pipe caught fire and exploded, sending people fleeing in panic.

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“It was like hell was raining down on us, then everybody started running in different directions,” Egbowon said.

At least 15 homes were burned. More than 20 charred vehicles caught in the fire were visible afterwards in the street, as firefighters and volunteers tried to douse the flames with sand and water after the explosion.

Witnesses said that even after the main explosion, the ground around the fire was so hot that shoes melted.

Abandoned in panic, discarded school bags and sandals littered the compound of one school whose pupils had fled. A group of women wailed in grief nearby.

A network of oil and fuel pipelines criss-crosses parts of Nigeria and explosions and fires that kill many are frequent.

In the creeks of the Niger Delta, the country’s main oil producing zone, the pipelines are also the target of sabotage attacks by local militants seeking greater control over oil revenues and more development for their impoverished region.

Previous accidental pipeline blasts in Nigeria have been caused by vandals who drilled holes in the feeder lines, used to distribute mainly imported fuel, in order to steal petrol for sale on the black market.

Despite the country’s oil wealth, most Nigerians live on less than $2 per day and many are prepared to take huge risks to obtain free fuel.

At least 45 people were burnt to death last December in another village on the outskirts of Lagos when fuel they were stealing from a buried pipeline went up in flames.

One year earlier, 250 people were killed in another pipeline fire in a different area of Lagos.

In such situations, a small number of organized thieves usually drill a hole in a pipeline, but as word spreads others come and try to steal the fuel and fire often breaks out.

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Additional reporting by Tume Ahemba; Writing by Pascal Fletcher