LAGOS, Nigeria – The death toll from a series of explosions at an army weapons depot in Lagos rose to more than 1,000 as more bodies were found, mainly children who drowned in a canal during their panicked flight from the blasts, a Lagos state official said Saturday.
Home Affairs Commissioner Musiliu Obanikoro made the announcement in a statement broadcast on the private Lagos radio station Rhythm 93.7 FM. Previously, officials had put the death toll at about 600.
Thousands of people fled for their lives last Sunday night after a fire erupted at an army base in the northern Ikeja neighborhood of Nigeria's crowded commercial capital.
The fire triggered a series of explosions that lasted for hours, propelling shells and flaming debris for miles around the base.
"From everything I have seen, as more bodies have been found over the days, the number of people who are deceased is now over 1,000 people," Obanikoro said.
Without elaborating, Obanikoro said the discovery of new bodies was finally tapering off.
Lagos State Information Commissioner Dele Alake said authorities had collected more than 700 bodies at local mortuaries. The remaining 300 had been collected by individuals for private burials, he added.
Alake said a few bodies were still being recovered Saturday from the Oke Afa canal, where hundreds of people drowned while fleeing the blasts. Navy patrol teams have begun searching other waterways in the city.
Families of the victims have directed their anger against Nigeria's military for storing munitions in a heavily populated area of the city. The army has promised to investigate, but many political leaders blame the military for the disaster and are calling for an independent inquiry.
The Red Cross has reunited 1,800 children with their parents and is feeding 11,500 people displaced by the army depot blasts. The relief group said Friday that 460 people were unaccounted but the figure has been fluctuating.
Meanwhile, a Red Cross warehouse in Lagos was destroyed Friday night in another blaze. The warehouse contained blankets and other non-food relief supplies worth $330,000. It was not clear what caused the blaze, which broke out in an army weapons depot in the city's northern suburb of Yaba, about five miles from the Ikeja base.
"We still don't know what caused it but we think it is probably the usual run-of-the-mill domestic fires," Nigerian Red Cross President Emmanuel Ijewere said Saturday. There had been no explosions and there were no reports of casualties, he added.