At least 100 people were killed and scores injured when fuel from a pipeline ruptured by an earthmover caught fire and exploded in a Nigerian village near the biggest city of Lagos, the Red Cross said today.
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 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 said.
School bags and sandals littered the compound of one school whose pupils had fled the explosion and blaze.
More than 20 burned out vehicles caught in the fire were visible in the street, as firefighters and volunteers tried to douse the flames with sand and water.
"I was returning home when I suddenly saw sparks of fire from where the grader (earthmover) was working. It was like hell was raining down on us, then everybody started running in different directions," local resident John Egbowon said.
Fuel pipelines criss-cross Africa's top oil-producing nation and explosions and fires with high fatalities are frequent.
Previous 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.
Nigeria is the world's number eight oil exporter, but 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 organised thieves usually drilled a hole in a pipeline, but as word spreads others come and try to steal the fuel and a fire is often ignited.