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Nigerian Red Cross Helps Families Find Missing Children After Blast - 2002-01-31

Nigerian Red Cross officials are working to find the families of hundreds of children lost during Sunday's explosions at a munitions depot in the commercial capital, Lagos. The efforts continue amid reports that police may be holding some of the children.

The Nigerian Red Cross says hundreds of children remain listed as missing, following the explosions that are blamed for the deaths of more than 600 people Sunday in Lagos.

Hundreds of children who were in the streets at the time scattered and ran from the blasts. Now, their parents are looking for them at various police stations and at a Red Cross center where workers are maintaining lists of the children who were lost, and those who have been found.

News reports from Lagos said some parents have complained that police officers were holding an undetermined number of children at local police stations.

Abiadun Orebiyi, Acting Secretary-General of the Nigerian Red Cross, says the reports caused anxiety among people at a time when tensions are already high. He called the reports "rumors," saying police have been cooperating with the effort to reunite children with their families.

"The children that are held in police stations are those [who were] found roaming the streets. The police came to the Red Cross to tell us that they had some children with them. We went there and collected them," he said.

Mr. Orebiyi has said some of the anxiety is being aggravated by the bureaucratic process that parents have to undergo when they claim their children.

"We always require the photograph of the child. Some of them bring birth certificates. In some [of the cases] when the child sees the mother or father coming, he or she jumps up or down to meet the parent. These are the [types of] proof that we use in reuniting them," he said.

Tempers have flared in the days after the explosions, in a munitions depot in Lagos' densely populated Ikeja district. Many people have criticized the military for storing high-power explosives in a crowded neighborhood.

On Wednesday, the government sought to defuse tensions by setting up a special relief fund for victims and announcing that all explosives will be moved to storage areas outside the city.