Skip to main content /WORLD /WORLD

Anger follows Lagos blasts

LAGOS, Nigeria -- Residents of Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos, are calling for an independent inquiry after hundreds of people died fleeing powerful explosions at a munitions dump.

Witnesses say hundreds of people died after they fled a series of blasts at an armoury in Lagos and drowned in a nearby canal.

One local journalist said that around 600 people were feared to have drowned. A local radio report said 200 bodies had been pulled from the canal.

Muyiwa Moyela told CNN: "It's a terrible thing and we hear very unconfirmed reports of figures of people who are missing, or dead, or drowned in nearby rivers as they escaped from the barracks."

As details continued to come in on the tragedy, British reporter Peter Cunliffe-Jones had told CNN: "The authorities are confirming there has been what they called 'a major drowning incident,' but they are not willing yet to put any exact numbers on it.

"There were hundreds of thousands of people fleeing...what is a very densely populated area. There were hundreds of munitions exploding all over the city. That's what led to the panic and, it appears, this drowning."

Army spokesman Col. Felix Chukwumah told The Associated Press the explosions appeared to have been set off by a fire that spread to the depot.

The base is surrounded by crowded slums and working-class neighbourhoods in a city of more than 12 million. The spokesman said he did not know how the fire started, though at least one police officer said on Sunday it was caused by an explosion at a nearby gas station.

The force of the blasts were such that windows were shattered at the international airport 10 kilometres (six miles) away. It was not immediately clear how many people died in the blasts themselves, with Army Brig. Gen. George Emdin saying there was "absolutely no one killed." But Mustafa Igama, a soldier at the base, described seeing "so many dead bodies" as he fled the scene.

President Olusegun Obasanjo toured the base on Monday morning, addressing hundreds of soldiers and their families who had fled the barracks. He promised the military would investigate the cause of the accident.

Obasanjo climbed onto the hood of a car to address the crowd, promising to "organise displaced people, relocate people and reunite children with their families."

Witnesses told Reuters they had counted eight bodies near the scene of the blasts, while a Reuters reporter said he saw two bodies on Oshodi Road, near the Ikeja military barracks where the arms depot is located.

An Associated Press reporter also saw the body of a young man on a street outside the base.

"The two in Oshodi were electrocuted after an overhead electric cable fell over them as they ran during the confusion," a resident of the area said.

Many people, mostly children, are missing and thousands have been left homeless.

Moyela told CNN: "I am outside the military barracks. It's been cordoned off by the military but there are a lot of people outside who still don't know the whereabouts of their families.

"There are no official figures yet on the toll, but it is believed that quite a number of people may have drowned in a nearby canal.

"When the blasts happened people just took off and it is possible that hundreds of people died trying to cross the water."

The blasts sent fireballs into the sky, shattered windows and causing panicked residents to flee the streets.

Patients evacuated

Witnesses reported extensive damage inside the barracks and to nearby homes and public buildings.

Shrapnel from the blast lit fires that caved in the roof of the Divine Power Outreach Ministries Church on the top floor of a four-storey building in Oshodi.

A radio and television repair shop was also destroyed by a shell while the windows and ceiling tiles of the Mandela hospital next door were also destroyed and all patients had been safely evacuated, hospital staff said.

Cunliffe-Jones added: "A lot of buildings have been burned down, factories have been destroyed and a lot of people are picking up the pieces."

The first explosion occurred shortly before 6 p.m. and was felt in surrounding neighbourhoods.

"Many people have reported missing children, and there are children looking for their parents," Lagos Police Commissioner Mike Okiro told Reuters on Monday.

"I have reports from the field that many people in the Ikeja area have taken refuge at police stations."

He said he had no information on casualties.

A senior officer told Reuters earlier he feared there would many casualties given the location of the armoury near a crowded barracks and a residential area.

Anda said the army had planned to improve the storage facilities at Ikeja, but "unfortunately this accident happened before the projects could be implemented."


• Nigerians missing after blasts
January 28, 2002

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


Back to the top