Nigerians Search For Missing After Blast

Nigerian Red Cross officials display photos of people missing after a ruptured gas pipeline exploded Tuesday, killing 265 people, in Lagos, Nigeria Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2006 AP

Nigerians clutching photos of relatives missing after a Lagos pipeline fire crowded around a survivors' tracking center on Wednesday, hoping loved ones were among those who escaped an inferno that killed 265 people.

Olaniyi Adebayo, who had carefully cut out his 15-year-old daughter Adebola from a picture of her two sisters, handed her image to Red Cross rescue workers.

The workers were helping to reunite reconnect families after an inferno swept through scavengers collecting fuel Tuesday from a vandalized gasoline pipeline in Lagos' Abule Egba neighborhood. The Red Cross said 265 people died in the blaze.

"It is not all who are dead, some are in hospitals and we don't know where" said Adebaya, a 46-year-old transport worker, who had already toured other health clinics, unsuccessfully seeking Adebola. "My wife is at home crying ... we just had Christmas together. Adebola was going to join the church choir."

Like many gathered at the Red Cross stall, Adebayo insists his daughter would only have been watching the commotion, rather than scooping up fuel. The Red Cross said at least 60 survivors had been documented, but the number of injuries was surely higher.

One woman, who declined to give her name, said many survivors feared arrest as thieves and were afraid to report to health authorities. Others may not have gone to a hospital because they lack money to pay for treatment, reports the BBC.

(AP / CBS)
Pipeline tapping is common in Nigeria, where most of the country's 130 million people live in poverty despite their country's role as Africa's leading crude producer.

Inefficiency and massive corruption mean petrol queues are often hours long, while a small jerrycan of black-market fuel fetches up to two weeks' wages for the average Nigerian. On the day of the fire, gas-station lines stretching hundreds of yards wound around Lagos blocks, with drivers jockeying for position.

Oluwunmi Olalekan, a 25-year-old student, said that state-supplied electricity was so unreliable in their part of town it was impossible to run the family business, an electronic games center, without gasoline for the generator.

Her 27-year-old brother, Olaniyan, had taken their 15-year-old brother, Deji, to the filling station to seek fuel, she said.

"Then one of his friends called him to say there was fuel here instead of standing in the line at the petrol station," she said in front of the charred ground.

She has not seen either brother since. Both siblings' names were carefully written out in an exercise book by a volunteer, logged as lost.

Many of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition, the BBC reported.

Most of the victims, who came armed with plastic buckets, bags and even pots and pans, have already been hastily buried in a mass grave to prevent an outbreak of cholera, which periodically sweeps through Nigerian slums.

Local priests and imams were invited to recite prayers for the deceased but no family members were present.

Nigerian Red Cross official Ige Oladimeji said that 265 bodies were buried, although fragments remained at the site. As condolences from United Nations head Kofi Annan and Pope Benedict XVI poured in, workers fumigated the area, picking up a human hand or piece of skull that had been overlooked.

Residents said a gang of professional thieves had been illegally tapping the pipe for months, carting away gasoline in tankers for resale. Two tankers had been seen hours before the pipeline exploded, they said. The cause of the flames wasn't known.

During a visit, the head of the Nigerian police, Sunday Ehindero, said that he planned to set up a special cross-agency taskforce to deal with pipeline vandalization and crack down on black market fuel sellers.

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.

Subsidized fuel prices are one of the few government-provided benefits, many say, but the low prices encouraged widespread smuggling to neighboring countries, exacerbating shortages and driving up black market prices.

The government has slashed subsidies in recent years, provoking several riots. But many distributors hoard supplies over the holidays, reselling it on the black market amid artificial scarcity to boost profits.
  • Lloyd Vries

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