LAGOS, Nigeria – A ruptured gasoline pipeline burst into flames Tuesday as scavengers collected the fuel, killing at least 260 people and injuring dozens of others, 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.
Witnesses said professional thieves broke into the pipeline after midnight and hundreds of men, women and children rushed in later to scoop up the fuel with jerry cans, plastic buckets and bags. It was unclear what ignited the gasoline.
"This was a preventable tragedy," said Joel Ogundere, whose home was next to the blast. "It was poverty, ignorance and greed," said the lawyer, who didn't give his age.
Nigerian Red Cross workers had documented 260 dead and 60 other people under treatment at local hospitals after the fire, senior Nigerian Red Cross official Ige Oladimeji said.
"We can only recognize them through the skulls, the bodies are scattered over the ground," Oladimeji said of the dead.
Red Cross staff continued removing charred corpses toward sunset, but work was tailing off, Oladimeji said.
Nigerians often tap into pipelines carrying refined fuel, scooping up the raw product in buckets or plastic bags. Spilled fuel spreading in pools sometimes ignites, immolating people nearby.
In May, more than 150 people died in a similar explosion in Lagos. A 1998 pipeline blast killed more than 1,000 in southern Nigeria.
Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer, but corruption, poor management and limited refining capacity often leaves 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 wasn't expected to affect production in Africa's largest oil exporter.