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Gas pipeline erupts in Nigeria, killing 260 scavenging for fuel

December 27, 2006|From the Associated Press

LAGOS, NIGERIA — At least 260 people were killed Tuesday when a gasoline pipeline ruptured by thieves exploded into an inferno as neighborhood residents scavenged the spurting fuel.

The thieves had opened the pipeline overnight but left without fully sealing it, prompting hundreds of poor residents to collect gasoline with cans, buckets and plastic bags, witnesses said.

It was unclear what ignited the fuel just after dawn.

Braving a pillar of fire and a cloud of black smoke, thousands of people in the Abule Egba neighborhood in Lagos surged around rescue workers carrying away charred bodies, trying to find relatives.

"My brother, my brother," wept 19-year-old Suboke Adebayo as a male corpse was loaded into an ambulance. Adebayo, a student, had spent hours trying to contact her sibling. "I've been calling him since this morning, but I can only hear a holding tone."

A woman in a yellow T-shirt sobbed uncontrollably, slapping herself on the face and clawing her arms.

Ige Oladimeji, a senior official at the Nigerian Red Cross, said his workers had counted 260 dead and 60 injured by nightfall.

Residents said a gang of thieves had been illegally tapping the pipeline for months, carting away gasoline in tankers for resale.

Tapping pipelines is common in Nigeria, where many of the 130 million people live in poverty. But the practice also brings accidents.

This year, 150 people died in a similar explosion in Lagos, and a 1998 pipeline fire killed 1,500 in southern Nigeria.

Bodies were scattered around the periphery of the site Tuesday. In many cases, only tiny reminders -- a child's sandal blistered by the heat, a half-melted plastic bucket -- were identifiable in a fused mass of bones, skulls and charred limbs.

Flames that nearly incinerated cars and melted electrical lines to pylons kept rescue workers from much of the carnage until the fire started to wane in the early afternoon.

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