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Death Toll Rises After Nigeria Blast - 2002-02-02

Officials in Nigeria say the death toll from last Sunday's explosions at a munitions depot in the commercial capital, Lagos, has risen above 1,000. Rescue efforts continue, with volunteers searching a canal where victims drowned as they tried to escape the blasts.

Word of the latest death toll came from Lagos state officials on Saturday, nearly a week after a fire at a munitions depot in the densely populated Ikeja district triggered a series of explosions.

The greatest loss of life occurred at a nearby canal, where hundreds of people - many of them children - slipped and drowned as they ran from the blasts. Rescue efforts continued in recent days, with volunteers diving into the murky waters to search for more victims. Scores of people remained listed as missing Saturday.

Burning shrapnel from the explosions set fire to homes across a wide area, leaving thousands of people homeless. Red Cross officials say at least 11,000 people lost their homes as a result of the blasts.

Relief efforts suffered a setback late Friday when a fire destroyed one of the Red Cross's main warehouses at a military facility in Lagos. Nigerian Red Cross Secretary-General Abiadun Orebiyi told VOA Saturday a large amount of supplies badly needed by the explosion victims was lost.

"We [had] recently replenished it with blankets, mats, pots, a lot of things," he explained. "We could not salvage anything at all."

It is not yet clear what started the blaze. Mr. Orebiyi says the supplies lost in the fire at the warehouse amount to nearly $400,000.

The Nigerian Red Cross is appealing for donations to replace the supplies that were destroyed.

The government, meanwhile, has promised to assist the homeless victims. Officials say they will be moved to temporary shelters at army barracks in Lagos in the coming days.