LAGOS: The death toll from an explosion at an illegal oil refinery in southern Nigeria rose to 110 on Sunday, after more people died from their injuries, the emergency services said.
The blast happened at the refinery between the southern oil states of Rivers and Imo.
“The death toll is now 110 from 80 as more people have succumbed to their injuries,” Ifeanyi Nnaji of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said. Nnaji said several burnt vehicles and jerry-cans used in scooping stolen crude and petroleum products littered the scene of the carnage.
Local media said more than 100 people, mostly youths, were burnt to death. Police confirmed the explosion happened late Friday at the site of an illegal refinery where operators and their patrons had gathered for business but did not provide figures on how many died.
Idris Musa, head of the of state-run National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency told AFP an investigation was under way. He said the explosion "claimed several lives, especially those engaged in illegal oil refining and bunkering". An NGO in the oil-producing Niger delta said corpses of the victims littered the area but could not immediately say how many were killed.
"Several bodies burnt beyond recognition lay on the ground while others who may have attempted to run for safety are seen hanging on some tree branches," said Fyneface Dumnamene, executive director of Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre.
The incident is the latest to hit oil-rich Nigeria in recent years. Pipeline fires are commonplace in Nigeria, in part because of poor maintenance but also because of thieves who vandalise pipelines to siphon off petrol and sell it on the black market.
Crude oil is tapped from a web of pipelines owned by major oil companies and refined into products in makeshift tanks. According to industry sources, Nigeria loses around 200,000 barrels of crude to oil thieves, vandals and illegal refining operators daily.
Most people in the Niger delta live in poverty even though the country is the biggest oil producer on the continent, with output of around two million barrels per day. Imo state officials said the suspected owner of the illegal refinery was wanted by police. The owner will be prosecuted, state commissioner for petroleum sources Goodluck Opiah said.
According to Opiah, the blast also destroyed marine life in the surrounding area predominantly used by farmers and fishermen. The perpetrators were from neighbouring states in the region, he said, and called for those involved to be treated as “economic saboteurs”.