600 feared dead in pipeline blast

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 October, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 October, 1998, 12:00am

Up to 600 people were feared dead yesterday and hundreds more injured after an oil-pipeline explosion near the Nigerian oil centre of Warri.

Most of the victims of Sunday's blast, one of the worst explosions in oil-industry history, were women and children, eye-witnesses and hospital spokesmen said.

One doctor said people were dying every minute. Local authorities were ordering mass graves to be dug because of fears of disease. Many eye-witnesses criticised the slowness of the rescue operations, saying it took hours before a single ambulance arrived at the scene.

Police flagged down passing cars and directed them to take severely injured people to hospitals, they said.

A volunteer said: 'Many more people might have survived if ambulances had not taken hours to get here.' The cause of the catastrophe in the pipeline belonging to a state-owned oil concern in the village of Apawor in the Niger Delta was thought to be either a glowing cigarette end or a spark from a passing motorcycle. The blast happened after the pipeline, belonging to the state oil-marketing firm, Pipeline and Products Marketing Company, sprang a large leak.

This attracted thousands of villagers, who went to the site to scoop up the spilling fuel, witnesses said. The blast happened as they collected fuel.

So far no official details have been given of the number of victims or the cause of the explosion. The company blamed saboteurs.

Militants in the region have sabotaged pipelines in recent weeks, trying to force oil firms to distribute more of their profits to the impoverished people of the oil-rich regions in the south.