Huge blast at Nigerian gas plant; eight dead

Lagos, December 25

A huge Christmas Eve explosion at an industrial gas plant in southeastern Nigeria left several people charred beyond recognition, police said today, as fatality numbers ranged from single digit figures to scores.

The blast at the Inter Corp Oil Limited gas plant, a subsidiary of Nigerian conglomerate Chicason Group, occurred around noon on Thursday, engulfing the industrial city of Nnewi in black clouds of billowing smoke. The fire raged on for hours gutting surrounding buildings and cars. By the time firefighters doused the last flames, there were charred corpses on the ash-covered ground, according to local reports. Gruesome mobile phone photos taken at the scene showed blackened bodies lying face down in smouldering rubble.

“It was a huge inferno,” police spokesman Ali Okechukwu told AFP.

“We have found six bodies outside the perimeter, two more bodies were found in the adjoining building, bringing the total number of casualties to eight,” Okechukwu said. “Six more persons were injured and referred to the hospital.”

Okechukwu, who was en route to the blast scene, said an investigation into the explosion was under way.

The gas-fuelled fire spread to a large surrounding area instantly, National Emergency Management Agency spokesman James Eze told AFP.

“About 300 metres from the gas line all the plants there were burnt, houses from 400 metres away were affected, heavy machines too,” Eze said, speaking over phone from the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital where victims of the blast were taken for treatment.

Eze put the total number of casualties at four, barring any missing people who were burnt without any trace.

“The fire (was) so strong as to burn the bones into ashes, but nobody has come forward with a missing person,” Eze said.

There are conflicting accounts about the cause of the explosion and the authorities have not explained what triggered it.

Some local reports say the blast occurred after a truck was off-loading butane cooking gas for customers stocking up on fuel for Christmas festivities. Others say it was triggered when a leaking consignment of gas was being moved to the company dump.

“The cause is yet to be determined. A few people lost their lives. Some people suffered burns of various degrees,” said Anambra state governor, Willy Obiano, who visited the scene of the accident.