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200 people killed in Lagos pipeline fireball

NIGERIA MAY 13 (AFP) Up to 200 people burned to death in a fireball Friday when a vandalised fuel pipeline blew up at a beach village near Nigeria's economic capital Lagos, police said.

Scorched beyond recognition, corpses floated on the water or lay exposed on the sand, the horror still etched in some faces, as rescue workers and police picked through the charred remains.

"The estimated number of people who died is between 150 and 200.... The people who died in the inferno are suspected to be pipeline vandals," Lagos police chief Emmanuel Adebayo told reporters, although another official put the toll at more than 200.

Adebayo said the area has been protected. "There is no further fire and no more leakage on the pipeline," he added.

"It is suspected that a pipeline burst led to the fire."

The Nigerian Red Cross had earlier reported more than 100 deaths from the blast early Friday at Ilado beach village, near Apapa seaport where numerous oil installations are located.

The explosion is the latest in a string of pipeline-related disasters that have befallen Nigeria in the past eight years.

Residents in Lagos said they saw a huge column of thick black smoke rising into the air from the vicinity.

"Over 100 people were burnt to death and beyond recognition following the explosion," Nigerian Red Cross Secretary General Abiodun Orebiyi told AFP. "We have been unable to recover any injured person," he added. He said Red Cross workers had found evidence that people had been trying to siphon fuel from the pipeline. "We found at the scene of the explosion about 500 jerrycans which we suspect were used to steal fuel from the pipeline."

On part of the pipeline that was unearthed the metal had been pierced and at least three holes to extract the fuel were visible, an AFP correspondent at the scene reported. The bodies of victims nearest the bursting pipeline were either turned to ashes, which dissolved in the lagoon, or were reduced to skeletal remains.

Silas Mamalgwe, a deputy superintendent of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, put the death toll at over 200.

"Our team of 25 people arrived the scene at 7.30 am (0630 GMT). We have so far not found any survivors. More than 200 people died in the explosion."

The positions of the some of the charred bodies indicated frantic attempts to flee the scene before they were engulfed by the flames.

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