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Many Lagos Victims Drowned in Canal Trying to Escape Explosions - 2002-01-28


Reports from Nigeria say hundreds of people died as a result of Sunday's explosions at a munitions depot in the commercial capital, Lagos. Witnesses say workers have pulled hundreds of bodies from a canal near the scene of the explosions.

The bodies are those of people who ran to escape from the massive explosions Sunday, only to drown after they plunged into the nearby Oke-Afa canal in Lagos' outlying Isolo district.

Witnesses at the scene say many of the victims are children who were frightened by the sound of the massive explosions, which echoed across the area, shaking buildings and shattering windows several kilometers away.

Lagos State Police Commissioner Mike Okilo says a number of cars also ended up in the canal, after motorists panicked while trying to drive away from the blasts. The explosions went on for several hours Sunday, after fire spread from a street market into the military facility where a large number of explosives were stored. There is no word from officials on exactly what touched off the fire and caused it to spread into the munitions depot.

The blasts sent burning shrapnel into homes and businesses adjacent to the depot, which is in the densely populated Ikeja district of Lagos. Nigerian officials say thousands of people have been left homeless.

President Olusegun Obasanjo toured the scene of the devastation Monday, as fires continued to smolder in buildings adjacent to the military facility. The Nigerian leader told reporters outside the depot the military will launch an investigation to determine what caused the disaster.

"When a situation like this occurs, the military must carry out an inquiry to find out exactly what happened, how it happened, who is to blame, if anybody is to blame, [and] what should be done to prevent future re-occurrance," he said. "The military knows how to go about that, and they will have to go about that."

President Obasanjo also promised assistance to those who were left homeless. He said the government will work to relocate residents who lost their homes and reunite children with their families.

Many of those listed as missing are the children of soldiers who were stationed at the military facility.

On Monday, officials warned residents to be careful of unexploded shells that landed in areas surrounding the depot.

The explosions on Sunday raised tensions in Nigeria. The country, Africa's most populous nation, has experienced six military coups since it gained its independence from Britain in 1960.

Military and state officials tried to ease panic by promptly going on national television to explain that the blasts were the result of an accident, and not part of a military coup, as some people had initially feared when they first heard the explosions coming from the direction of the military camp at Ikeja.

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