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Obasanjo Appeals for International Donations - 2002-01-30


Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo is making an urgent call for international assistance following a series of explosions at a munitions depot on Sunday. The blasts killed more than 600 people in the commercial capital, Lagos.

The Nigerian leader made the appeal for international donations Wednesday, as he announced the creation of a disaster relief fund to help the thousands of people who were left homeless after Sunday's explosions.

A fire in an ammunition depot is blamed for the blasts. The depot is located in Lagos' crowded Ikeja district, and burning shrapnel from the explosions torched a large number of homes, leaving - by army estimates - more than 2,500 people homeless. Red Cross officials in Nigeria say hundreds of people remain missing.

Speaking in Nigeria's political capital, Abuja, Wednesday, President Obasanjo said no donation to the disaster relief fund would be too small.

"I want to appeal to all Nigerians and [to] our friends in the international community to contribute to this fund, in order to bring immediate and real relief to the victims," he said.

President Obasanjo set up the disaster relief fund amid growing criticism by Nigerians who are angry that the military was storing high-power explosives in a densely populated neighborhood.

The Nigerian leader earlier this week said the military would carry out an investigation. Amid the public anger at the military, the two chambers of the Nigerian parliament have launched their own inquiries.

Red Cross spokesman Patrick Bawa in Lagos tells VOA his agency registered at least 425 children who lost contact with their parents. More than half have been reunited with their relatives since the disaster, after lists of the missing were broadcast on local radio.

According to Mr. Bawa, finding the relatives of the remaining children has been difficult. "Some of them are very little children, so they can hardly tell us the kind of things we want to hear," he said. "Most of them can tell only what their names are. Apart from that, they can't say anything further. Some of the children are really in a state of shock. We have some of them who have hearing problems as a result of the blasts. Those of them who have that problem have been taken to the general hospital for medical attention."

Government officials say more than 600 people, many of them children, died as a result of the explosions. The greatest loss of life occurred at a canal where people drowned after they slipped while trying to run away from the blasts.

Workers in Lagos on Wednesday began burying unidentified corpses recovered after Sunday's disaster.

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