Pipeline fire
Pius Utomi Ekpei  /  AFP - Getty Images
Firefighters try to put out the fire at the scene of a pipeline explosion at Abule Egba in Lagos, Nigeria, on Tuesday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/26/2006 1:17:01 PM ET 2006-12-26T18:17:01

A ruptured gasoline pipeline burst into flames Tuesday as scavengers in the impoverished neighborhood collected spilling fuel. At least 260 people died in the explosion in Nigeria’s largest city, the Red Cross said.

Scores of bodies could be seen jumbled and fused together in the raging flames at the blast site. Intense heat kept rescue workers back as smoke billowed over the heavily populated Abule Egba neighborhood in Lagos.

Witnesses said thieves had broken into the pipeline after midnight and hundreds of men, women and children had been collecting leaking fuel in plastic buckets, cans and bags for hours before the explosion. It was unclear what ignited the gasoline.

“This was a preventable tragedy,” said Joel Ogundere, a lawyer whose home was next to the blast. “It was poverty, ignorance and greed.”

Ige Oladimeji, a senior official for the Nigerian Red Cross, said his workers had documented “over 200 and still counting.”

Red Cross staff continued removing charred corpses toward sunset, but work was tailing off after the early-morning blast in the impoverished neighborhood, said Ige Oladimeji, a senior Nigerian Red Cross official.

“We can only recognize them through the skulls, the bodies are scattered over the ground,” he said. Workers “can’t get close enough because the fire is still burning.”

Sixty people were injured, he said.

Nigerians often tap into pipelines carrying refined fuel, using buckets or plastic bags to scoop up the liquid. Pooling fuel sometimes ignites, immolating people nearby.

In May, more than 150 people died in a similar explosion in Lagos.

Continent's largest oil producer
Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer, but corruption, poor management and limited refining capacity often leave the country short of fuel for vehicles and stoves. Shortages in recent days have prompted hours-long lines at Lagos filling stations.

The pipeline is owned by Nigeria’s state-owned petroleum company and was transporting refined fuel for domestic consumption. The blast was not expected to affect production in Africa’s largest oil exporter.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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