LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — A pipeline explosion apparently sparked by thieves siphoning off oil led to an inferno that killed at least 250 people, destroyed villages and charred surrounding cropland. The fire began late Saturday and was still raging Sunday night.
An official death toll was not available, but journalists and witnesses on the scene near the town of Jesse, 180 miles southeast of Lagos, estimated that at least 250 people were killed.
There were 230 bodies in one pile of corpses, journalists said, and residents said at least a dozen more bodies already had been taken away by relatives. In addition, some of the injured taken to area hospitals had died, officials said.
Many of the victims were farmers and villagers sleeping in their homes when the fire began. Vandals also were among the dead, including children. Their corpses had been found still clutching plastic cups, funnels and cans intended to collect fuel from the pipeline.
Military commander Walter Feghabo ordered a mass burial for those whose bodies were charred beyond recognition.
Feghabo said that more than 120 firefighters still were trying late Sunday to contain the flames in Jesse and the nearby villages of Mossogar and Oghara.
The above-ground pipeline, linking an oil refinery in the southeastern city of Warri, 200 miles southeast of the commercial capital of Lagos, with the northern city of Kaduna, nearly 400 miles away, exploded when thieves sabotaged the line hoping to siphon off oil, an official for Nigeria’s state petroleum corporation said on condition of anonymity.