An oil pipeline explosion killed about 100 people on Thursday near a primary school in a suburb north of Lagos, the Red Cross said.
An earth-moving excavator at a road construction site accidentally burst the pipeline, causing the explosion and an inferno, which engulfed adults and children standing nearby, Red Cross official Sule Mekudi said from the site of the disaster.
The blast erupted near a primary school in the suburban town of Ijegun, and the area was littered with shoes and bags belonging to pupils, a journalist at the scene said.
Local people threw sand and water at the flames in a bid to help firefighters extinguish the blaze, witnesses said.
“About 100 people were confirmed dead in the explosion. We have also evacuated about 20 others to the Ikeja general hospital,” Mekudi said. Most of the injured had suffered serious burns, he said.
Pipeline fires are commonplace in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer, in part because of poor pipeline maintenance but also because of thieves who vandalize pipelines to siphon off petrol to sell on the black market.
On Dec. 25, around 40 people died in a fire at a pipeline in a creek in Lagos after it was vandalized by looters. Exactly one year earlier, more than 200 people died scooping fuel from a vandalized pipeline in another Lagos district.
More than 1,000 villagers burned to death in 1998 in Jesse, near the southern Delta state oil city of Warri, after another fuel pipeline was vandalized. Victims were suspected of scooping petrol to sell on the black market.
State-run oil giant Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has campaigned against pipeline vandalism. It says between 400 and 500 acts of vandalism occur every year on its pipelines.
Nigeria derives more than 95 percent of its foreign exchange earnings from oil.
Rescuers began leaving the scene of the latest disaster as darkness set in, said Abdulsalam Mohammed, a spokesman for Nigeria’s national emergency agency.
“The fire has drastically reduced. We shall continue work tomorrow [yesterday]. We will also discuss [how] to improve on our level of preparedness against future occurence,” he said.
Firefighters from the Nigerian Emergency Management Agency, the fire service, construction firm Julius Berger and the NNPC fought the blaze, he said.
Lagos police spokesman Frank Mba said the rescue work continued and it was too early to provide casualty figures.
Lagos MP, Adeola Olamilekan, who was at the scene of the disaster, thanked firefighters for their efforts to put out the fire.