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The Guardian: Up to 200 killed in Nigeria as fuel thieves cause huge pipeline blast

Up to 200 killed in Nigeria as fuel thieves cause huge pipeline blast
Tom Ashby in Inagbe beach and Reuters
Saturday May 13, 2006
The Guardian

A pipeline explosion killed up to 200 people on the outskirts of Lagos yesterday, leaving charred corpses on a sandy beach where locals tapping the pipe to steal fuel ignited the blast.

The Red Cross said the pipeline blew up in the early hours of the morning while thieves were siphoning fuel into jerry cans for sale on the black market. The explosion burned everything within a 20 metre radius. Only calcinated skulls and bones were left of five people who were closest to the pipeline, which bore marks of drilling in several places.

About 100 blackened corpses were strewn on the water's edge. Some bodies, charred and bloated, floated in the creek, which is about a mile from Lagos city centre. “You can see the corpses. Some are burnt to ash. Others are remnants. We estimate 150 to 200 people died,” the Lagos state police commissioner, Emmanuel Adebayo, said at the scene.

Theft of petrol and crude oil from pipelines is common in Nigeria, an oil producing country where the vast majority of people live in poverty.

“This is caused by hunger and greed. If you've got no job and you're hungry you take advantage of anything to feed your family. Anyone who takes this kind of risk is desperate,” said Olanrewaju Saka-Shenayon, a state government official.

The pipeline, which belongs to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, runs just under the surface of Inagbe beach, on one of many islands that dot the Atlantic coast around Lagos. It carries petrol from a large tanker jetty to a distribution depot inland.

The beach is close to the village of Ilado, where about 50 people died in a similar inferno last year. A dilapidated port city, home to an estimated 13 million people, Lagos has been hit before by devastating explosions. A blast at a munitions dump in 2002 killed more than 1,000 people.

In Jesse, in the southern state of Delta, a pipeline fire also caused by thieves killed about 250 people in 2000.

· Additional reporting by Tume Ahemba and Estelle Shirbon.

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