Oil pipeline explosion killed 100 people

Published on Monday 19th May 2008

LAGOS (AFP) — Nigerian firefighters battled Friday to put out flames pouring from a burst oil pipeline a day after a huge explosion that Red Cross officials said killed 100 people.

Crime, corruption and poverty have continued to kill Nigeria's famished people. Like the others before it in the last 10 years, the 19th reported case of oil-pipeline explosion killed scores of persons and destroyed property worth billions of naira at Ijegun-Ikotun, Lagos, last Thursday. The inferno raged through the night.

An excavator accidentally pierced the pipeline, creating a lake of petrol that ignited into a huge fireball which engulfed a local school, cars and shoppers in the Lagos suburb of Ijegun.

Some witnesses said about 50 people were killed on the spot by the explosion and the flames were so thick that no one could get close to help survivors.

Red Cross official Sule Mekudi told AFP that about 100 people were believed to have died in all. There was no confirmation of the toll however from police or other authorities and some local residents said it could be lower.

At least 36 people have been taken to a nearby military hospital, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) spokesman Abdulsalam Mohammed said.

Correspondents say residents are beginning to assess the damage to the area.

The blast erupted near a school and the area was littered with shoes and bags belonging to pupils.

Chinedu Eze, 19, was writing an exam in the Ijegun Comprehensive Junior High School when the explosion erupted. He told how local residents broke down the wall in front of the school to help pupils escape the fire.

Local people threw sand and water at the giant flames in a bid to help firefighters extinguish the blaze which sent a huge cloud of black smoke into the sky.

Firefighters concentrated their efforts on preventing the fire from reaching a petrol filling station, which was surrounded by a muddy pond of water.

"When the Caterpillar driver came, the people here warned him there was a pipeline under the ground. He said he'd be careful, but the minute he started work this happened," said Jimoh Hazan, a middle-aged man sat with several female relatives in white plastic chairs in front of the remains of his house.

"There was a terrible action -- people came to loot us while we were running away from the fire," said Hazan, another resident.

Pipeline fires are commonplace in Nigeria, Africa's biggest oil producer, in part because of poor pipeline maintenance but also because of thieves who vandalise pipelines to siphon off petrol to sell on the black market.

Pipeline fires are common in Nigeria. More than 400 people died in two pipeline explosions in Lagos in 2006, and at least 40 died in December last year.

On December 25, around 40 people burnt to death in a fire at a pipeline in a creek in Lagos after it was vandalised by looters. Exactly one year earlier, more than 200 people died scooping fuel from a vandalised pipeline in another Lagos district.

More than 1,000 villagers burnt to death in 1998 in Jesse, near the southern Delta state oil city of Warri, following the vandalisation of a fuel pipeline. Victims were suspected of scooping petrol to sell on the black market.

State-run oil giant Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has campaigned against pipeline vandalisation. It says between 400 and 500 acts of vandalism occur every year on its pipelines.

Sarah Simpson, another journalist speaking from Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta, said that very little has changed regarding the country's attempts to avoid disasters that can occur around oil pipelines.

She said: "Investment and money has not been put into making these pipelines safer."