Gasoline pipeline blast kills up to 200 in Nigeria
Officers try to empty the fuel in 500 jerry cans brought by people to steal fuel from the pipeline.
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LAGOS, Nigeria (CNN) -- Between 150 and 200 people were killed on Friday when a gasoline pipeline exploded in Nigeria, officials said, incinerating people as they were trying to drain fuel into cans.
"You can see the corpses. Some are burned to ash. Others are remnants ... We estimate 150 to 200 people died," the police commissioner told Reuters news agency.
"It seems these people were literally incinerated, almost instantly," CNN's Jeff Koinange reported from Lagos. (Watch how dozens died in a furnace of fire -- 2:20)
Rescue workers dug a ditch near the exploded pipeline, the commissioner told The Associated Press, saying the bodies would be "given a mass burial."
A Reuters reporter said sand had been cleared from around the buried pipeline and that it bore marks of drilling. The pipeline carries petroleum from a jetty offshore to a distribution point inland, he reported.
"People insist on breaking into these installations in order to steal petrol in the pipes and it's difficult to man every pipeline in the country," Nigerian government spokesman Femi Fani-Kayode said.
"We don't have the people or resources, and I don't think anyone in the world does."
The fire from the blast has been extinguished, and Nigerian police officers have secured the scene. Nigerian officials say the pipe exploded on Snake Island.
"A number of villages were involved and came to assist and help our security agents," Fani-Kayode said.
Despite its oil riches, Nigeria's population remains impoverished and people often tap into pipelines crossing their lands, seeking fuel for cooking or resale on the black market.
The fuel thefts can easily lead to tragedy because safety is not a concern.
"This is a very common occurrence here in Nigeria ... vandals going in trying to steal petroleum products and a motorcycle backs up and a spot just hits the pipeline and explodes," CNN's Koinange said.
"This is caused by hunger and greed. If you've got no job and you're hungry you take advantage of anything to feed your family. Anyone who takes this kind of risk is desperate," Olanrewaju Saka-Shenayon, a Lagos state government official, told Reuters.
Officials also suspect that some of the stolen oil is used to finance militant groups, such as the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
MEND has been responsible for some attacks on oil pipelines and a wave of kidnappings of oil workers, acts that cut oil output in the world's eighth-largest producer by about 25 percent annually, officials said.
In September 2004, an oil pipeline exploded near Lagos as thieves tried to siphon oil from it, with up to 50 people perishing in the flames. A 1998 pipeline blast killed more than 1,000 in southern Nigeria.
"Because this thing has happened many times before we thought it would be a deterrent, but apparently it wasn't enough deterrent for these people who died," Lagos State Health Commissioner Tola Kasali told AP as he looked over the charred corpses on the beach at Ilado, about 28 miles from Lagos.
He said about 100 of the bodies were buried Friday, and the rest would be Saturday so they did not spread disease into Lagos.
Many of the corpses were in a nearby creek.
"We just decided to give them a mass burial because no one can recognize them, even their family members can't identify them," Kasali told AP.
"We're concerned that if we don't do that, we'll create a health emergency in Lagos since it happened by the shore and the water will just flow back into the city."
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