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Nigerian Blast Death Toll Expected to Rise


Health workers are struggling to retrieve badly charred bodies from Thursday's oil pipeline fire in Lagos, for a likely mass burial this weekend. More than 100 people were killed in an oil pipeline explosion in Nigeria's largest city and state-owned radio says the final death toll could be twice that number. Gilbert da Costa reports for VOA from Abuja.

Red Cross officials told VOA that volunteers were still conducting search-and-rescue and they may fumigate the area so disease does not spread.

"We are seeing if we can do fumigation, but we need to make sure that we have finished saving lives, which is our mission there," said Omon Okon, who is with the Nigerian Red Cross. "It was very late when we left last night and we are there again this morning to see what can be further done."

The badly charred remains of the victims are expected to be buried in a mass burial this weekend, officials say. Islamic religious custom calls for quick burial of the dead, and it is assumed some of the dead may have been Muslims.

The pipeline was ruptured during work to build a road in a northern suburb of Lagos . A bulldozer moving earth struck the pipeline buried beneath the surface.

Eyewitnesses say a number of houses and schools also caught fire, leaving more than 50 injured.

Lagos-based photo-journalist George Esiri was among the first to arrive at the scene, and he told VOA what he saw. "When you see a street on fire; cars burnt, house burnt, kids from schools dead … and the ground so hot," he said. "The firefighters - the streets were so hot that before they moved anywhere, they poured water on the streets to make sure their tires did not burn, about five firefighters, and it took time for them to even get closer because of the heat on the roads. The streets were on fire."

Pipeline fires are fairly common in Nigeria, Africa's biggest producer of crude oil, partly because poorly maintained pipelines crisscross residential neighborhoods. Pipelines are also vandalized to siphon off gasoline for sale on the black market.

State-run oil giant Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation says between 400 and 500 attacks occur on its pipelines every year.

Thousands of people have perished in Nigeria as a result of explosions caused by pipelines being vandalized.

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