- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2006

ILADO, Nigeria — A ruptured gasoline pipeline exploded as villagers collected fuel in a coastal village in southwestern Nigeria yesterday, killing up to 200 people and leaving charred bodies scattered around the beach.

Grim-faced rescue workers swung corpses into a mass grave as dozens of other bodies awaited collection next to the pipeline. Others dragged bodies across the white sand.

It appeared some victims whose bodies lay farther away had tried to flee the unfolding disaster only to be overtaken by flames.

The villagers had been collecting the gushing fuel outside the village of Ilado, about 30 miles east of the main Nigerian city of Lagos, when it ignited, police and rescue workers said.

“Between 150 and 200 people died,” Lagos Police Commissioner Emmanuel Adebayo told reporters. The blast sent huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky before the fire was extinguished.

Red Cross spokeswoman Okon Umoh said workers from the organization were helping survivors, but none could be seen at the site.

Lagos State Health Commissioner Tola Kasali said the bodies — which floated in nearby waters or lay on the beach — would be buried in a common grave because they would otherwise pose a health risk.

“We just decided to give them a mass burial because no one can recognize them, even their family members can’t identify them,” he said.

The pipeline was run by Nigeria’s state oil company and was used to transport gasoline across the country for national consumption.

By the end of the day, about 100 of the dead had been interred, and Mr. Kasali said cleanup efforts would resume today.

Nigeria, which normally pumps 2.5 million barrels of crude per day, is Africa’s leading oil producer, the world’s seventh-biggest exporter and the fifth-biggest source of U.S. oil imports.

But most of its population remains impoverished and people often tap into pipelines crossing their lands, seeking fuel for cooking or resale on the black market. The highly volatile petroleum can ignite, incinerating those collecting it.

More than 1,000 people in Nigeria have died in recent years when the fuel they were pilfering from tapped pipelines caught fire — and officials said it would likely happen again.

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 people in southern Nigeria.

The oil industry also has been troubled by violence.

Three foreign oil workers who had been abducted in the oil hub of Port Harcourt were released yesterday, a day after they were snatched from a bus as they headed to work, regional police Cmdr. Samuel Adetuyi said.

It was the second attack this week on foreigners in Port Harcourt, where many oil-services companies keep their main Nigerian operations.

An unidentified gunman riding a motorcycle Wednesday shot and killed an American riding in a car to work at the offices of the U.S. drilling equipment maker Baker Hughes Inc.

The pipeline explosion tempered a drop in crude oil futures as the International Energy Agency sharply cut its forecasts for world oil demand. Oil prices held above $72.

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