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Over 100 killed in Nigerian oil pipeline inferno
( 2003-06-22 12:14) (Agencies)

A Nigerian oil pipeline punctured by thieves exploded, killing more than 100 villagers scavenging for fuel, witnesses said on Saturday.

They said the explosion happened on Thursday in the southeastern community of Onicha Amiyi-Uhu, 35 miles north of the Abia state capital Umuahia.

A Reuters reporter counted nine charred bodies at the scene. "Over 100 people died as a result of the incident," Tyson Arugi, the environment councilor for the municipal area, told visiting Abia state Deputy Governor Chima Nwafo.

"Some who escaped with injuries died in their villages," Arugi said.

OPEC member Nigeria, the world's eighth biggest crude oil exporter, is Africa's biggest oil producer, but it suffers chronic fuel shortages because of technical problems with its four domestic refineries.

Arugi said the explosion was triggered by a spark from a motorcycle whose rider was transporting petrol from the ruptured pipeline, owned by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp (NNPC).

NNPC fire crews rushed in from the oil city of Port Harcourt managed to extinguish the fire on Saturday.

Hospital officials in Umuahia said they had been struggling to cope with the flood of burn victims. Three people had died at the city's Federal Medical Center and a fourth on the way there.

"Since Thursday night we have been receiving victims of severe burns in our hospital," the center's director, Dr Chinonso Onuoha, told reporters.

"All our beds in the casualty section are occupied by people in critical condition, some with 100 percent burns," he said.

Witnesses said villagers using buckets and jerry cans had been scooping kerosene from the pipeline since it was deliberately punctured some two months before the accident.

Oil pipeline fires accidentally started by fuel thieves are common in Nigeria and have killed hundreds of villagers in the past four years.

A thriving black market in petrol is a major incentive to fuel thieves tapping into the 3,125 miles network of pipelines transporting refined products across the vast country.

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