May 12, 2006

Nigeria pipeline blast kills up to 200 people

By Tom Ashby

INAGBE BEACH, Nigeria (Reuters) - A pipeline explosion
killed up to 200 people on the outskirts of Lagos on Friday,
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 massive explosion cooked
everything within a 20 meter radius.

Only gray calcinated skulls and bones were left of five
people who were closest to the pipeline, which had been dug out
of the sand and bore marks of drilling in several places.

About 100 blackened, unrecognizable corpses were strewn on
the water's edge a few meters away, where the golden sand was
still steaming hot on Friday afternoon.

Some bodies, charred and bloated, floated in the waters of
the creek, which is only about a mile from Lagos city center by

"You can see the corpses. Some are burned to ash. Others
are remnants. ... We estimate 150 to 200 people died," 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 Lagos State government official.

The pipeline, which belongs to state company Nigerian
National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), runs just under the
surface of Inagbe Beach, a stretch of golden sand 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.

Local government workers wearing rubber gloves hauled
bodies out of the water and used a makeshift stretcher to carry
them up the beach to a shallow grave a short distance away.

About a dozen police and a few Red Cross officials were at
the scene.

Inagbe Beach is not a populated area but hundreds of mostly
young men apparently came there to tap into the pipeline at the
dead of night. The beach is a short distance away from 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

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

(Additional reporting by Tume Ahemba and Estelle Shirbon)