LAGOS, Nigeria – Workers carried away the last charred bodies of victims from a fire that swept through a crowd of Nigerians stealing fuel from a ruptured gasoline pipeline, and the death toll reached 265, the Red Cross said Wednesday.
Dozens more were injured when the pipeline illegally tapped by thieves caught fire Tuesday as residents of an impoverished Lagos neighborhood collected fuel, senior Nigerian Red Cross official Ige Oladimeji said.
With the bodies removed, workers began fumigating the area against the spread of disease in the tropical humidity.
The Vatican conveyed Pope Benedict XVI's condolences to Nigerians.
"With fervent prayers that almighty God will grant eternal peace to those who have died and consolation and strength to the homeless and injured, he invokes the divine gifts of wisdom, strength and peace upon the civil authorities and those engaged in the work of relief and rebuilding," Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said in a statement.
As the fire raged Tuesday and a cloud of acrid black smoke spread, thousands of residents of Lagos' Abule Egba neighborhood had rushed to the scene to try to find missing family members being carried away by rescue workers.
Residents said a gang of thieves had been illegally tapping the pipe for months, carting away gasoline in tankers for resale.
Pipeline tapping is common in Nigeria, where a majority of the country's 130 million people live in poverty despite their country's role as Africa's leading crude-oil producer.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed his condolences and called "for a review of the country's fuel supply management, as well as a thorough regional review of risks that could lead to other environmental or technological disasters in West Africa," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York.
Massive corruption and mismanagement has left the country's refineries unable to meet demand, and fuel shortages are common. Christians heading home for Christmas, and Muslims preparing for an upcoming feast day, have jammed filling stations for days across Lagos, a massive city of 13 million people.
A single pilfered jerrycan of gasoline, sold on the black market, can equal two weeks of wages for a poor Nigerian.
Earlier this year, 150 people died in a similar incident and a 1998 pipeline fire killed 1,500. Many Nigerians feel they have gained little from decades of oil production in their country, saying gas flaring and oil spills have polluted lands while they remain poor as only a tiny elite grows rich.
Tuesday's blast was the worst in years. Thieves opened the conduit but left without fully sealing it and nearby residents rushed to collect the spurting gasoline with jerry cans, buckets and even plastic bags, witnesses said.
It was unclear what ignited the spilled fuel just after dawn.
"There were mothers there, little children," said Emmanuel Unokhua, an engineer who lives near the site of the blast. "I was begging them to go back."