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Nigerian Pipeline Explosion Kills 100

June 22, 2003|From Times Wire Services

ONICHA AMIYI-UHU, Nigeria — A Nigerian oil pipeline punctured by thieves exploded, killing more than 100 villagers scavenging for fuel, witnesses said Saturday.

They said the explosion happened Thursday in the southeastern community of Onicha Amiyi-Uhu, north of the Abia state capital, Umuahia.

Word of the disaster emerged slowly because many survivors apparently feared prosecution for theft and sabotage, said Emmanuel Ijewere, president of the Nigerian Red Cross.

"Most of the bodies are so badly burned they are unidentifiable. We depend on families to come forward to give us a better idea of whose missing loved ones have been killed," Ijewere said.

"Over 100 people died as a result of the incident," said Tyson Arugi, environment official for the municipal area.

More confirmed deaths were likely as rescue crews continued to recover bodies.

Hospital officials in Umuahia said they had been struggling to cope with the flood of burn victims.

Nigeria, the world's eighth biggest exporter of crude oil, is Africa's biggest oil producer, but it suffers chronic fuel shortages because of technical problems with its four domestic refineries.

Arugi said the explosion was triggered by a spark from a motorcycle whose rider was transporting fuel from the ruptured pipeline, owned by the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corp.

Ndu Ughamadu, a spokesman for company, confirmed that the pipeline was ruptured by vandals.

The company's fire crews rushed in from the oil city of Port Harcourt managed to extinguish the fire Saturday.

Witnesses said villagers using buckets and jerrycans had been scooping kerosene from the pipeline since it was deliberately punctured about two months before the accident.

Oil pipeline fires accidentally started by fuel thieves are common in Nigeria.

A thriving black market is a major incentive to thieves tapping into the more than 3,000 miles of pipelines transporting refined products across the country.

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